“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” - Warren Buffett

Over the last few days many of you will have seen Paul Graham’s latest post on Growth and startups. For those of you who have not seen it, the original post can be found here.

While I strongly believe there are several brilliant points in this post it does need to be said that start-ups should not mistake this for “growth at all costs.” Furthermore, I do hope that start-ups actually take care that that they do not abuse the trust of their users/customers/community in order to achieve rapid levels of growth.

Here is an example that has upset me in the past and once where I think one startup has crossed the line:

This story can be found on Ivan Kirgin’s blog and is a clear example of how a startup (whose work I love btw) has abused trust. This shows Quora was posting articles you are reading to other people without your consent. OKAY, I get it, you can turn it up but they have set this to default on your user settings to drive further adoption and content consumption but I can’t help but feel they have crossed the line here.

The issue is people may be researching areas they would not want close friends, associates or colleagues to know they were looking for. Examples include: “How do I come out to my parents” or “How do I tell my family I have a terminal illness”. Clearly these are very sensitive issues. None of these are ok to share with friends especially without a users explicit consent. This is a bad sign someone inside of Quora did not consider this before launching that feature.

So, to everyone working on a start-up. Please consider your users and understand that if you betray their trust, you’ll ruin your own reputation. And as the sage of Omaha said, your reputation will be in tatters within minutes.

Do you suffer from FOMO ?

Opportunity does not appear with its value stamped upon it - unknown

In my opinion, FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) drives a tremendous amount of human behavior. Knowing that FOMO is a big behavior driver for entrepreneurs to exploit. And many do if they can create a kind of feeding frenzy around their offering. Not only is FOMO a pervasive driving force in business it also drives a lot of human relationships  (platonic, business or romantic).

Resisting FOMO is something we are all guilty of from time to time. Here are two reasons

1) Denial - most people don’t want to admit it or are unaware that they are vulnerable to this phenomenon

2) Perception - it is genuinely quite hard to know when you are under the spell of FOMO.

What I am telling you may sound very obvious but it is a point that most of us miss. You always need a reason to do something - critical insight, gut feeling, analysis or a good understanding and not just the fear that you will be missing out on a great opportunity/an investment/meeting the love of your life or what have you. Unfortunately, human beings have a tremendous ability to convince (and therefore) fool ourselves that you actually do possess the critical insight, gut feeling or good understanding. 

My generation is absolutely spoilt for choice in this regard. Too much choice leaves  us paralyzed about making a decision and and obviously increases the likelihood of the fatal buyers remorse.

If you ever listened to teachers, parents, associates, mentors etc many of them will praise you and call you special and tell you the world is your oyster.

But, there is a BIG but.

How do you choose when you’ve been taught you can have it all?

Ultimately, I believe you need some sort of filter to determine whether you are being driven by FOMO or sound judgement.

Here is my own check list:

1) Non-negotiable criteria - you need to determine exactly and precisely what you will not compromise on. You can make this a laundry list if you will but deep down you will be able to boil things down to a handful of factors that you simply will not compromise on

2) Prize - figure out where you want to end up. Check out where others who have got to where you want to be have been. Think about what you can learn. This should also eliminate the myriad of options that are in your way.

3) Tribe  - If you want to belong to a certain group it makes to hang around with like minded people. That is not to say you cannot have a variety of groups (I have a variety of friends, colleagues, associates and interests - none mix b.c I can’t stand mindless bickering) However, to give you an example, if you aspire to travel the world and backpack and live in a mud hut in Nicaragua please don’t go chasing Wall Street types. Pick your tribe and defend it.

There is a saying among male-kind. You can change your girlfriend, you can change your shirt, you can change your job but you can’t change your football team.

4) Time - Watch the clock. Time is ticking. You should give yourself time limits as to when you need to make a choice by and then drop them completely. You really do run the risk of wasting a lot of time hoping, wishing and beating your head against the wall in wait or hope of a solution. I’m slowly learning this the hard way having wasted a good deal of time chasing things but not murdering/killing off these options at a specific time point.

5) Choose - I grew up an only child and yes I was quite spoilt, anyone who is an only child who denies this is lying. Anyway, I remember a kid I used to go to school with. We once went on a school trip and it was a summer day. This kid was the one who would scream to get his way. He demanded every single thing be done his way. We even went to a buffet for lunch and he picked up a plate of EVERYTHING. He did not want to share. Don’t be that kid. You don’t get to have everything.

Today’s 20 and 30 somethings approach life very differently than past generations. We date more actively, we switch jobs and careers, we can eat out at lots of different places and we eschew traditional decision. We are also because of this buffet of choice life offers us increasingly reluctant o make the ultimate commitments. This has much to do with the glittery options out there competing for our attention, friends we could have, professional success, optimizing for picking one company to work for over the other (Goldman v. McKinsey springs to mind) etc and so forth.

Stop over-optimizing. Make a choice.

How to ask good questions?

I have wrestled with this all year. I have tried to hack, game or come up with simple solutions to this and here are a list of how I would go about asking good questions.

Asking good questions is both an art and a science. It will take both experience and practice to get good at.  Above all else, you need to get good at listening in order to ask good questions.

Below you will find some templates to asking good questions:

Questions of Clarification

These are “basic” questions that help us comprehend meaning

What does he/she mean by _____?

What is the main point of _____?

How does _____ relate to _____?

Does he/she mean _____ or _____?

Could you give me an example of _____?

Would _____ be an example of _____?

Why does he/she say that?

Questions that Examine Reasons and Evidence

These are more complex questions that target why certain things are said or done.

How do you know _____?

Why do you think _____ is true?

Is there any evidence for _____?

Is there any evidence that _____?

What difference does _____ make?

What are his/her reasons for saying _____?

Are the reasons for _____ adequate?

What led him/her to believe _____?

How does _____ apply to _____?

Is there a reason to doubt _____?

Who could confirm that _____ is true?

Can someone else give evidence to support the view that _____?

Questions that Examine Assumptions

These are more complex questions that target what is being implied (things not being said directly).

What is he/she assuming?

All of his/her reasoning depends on the idea that _____.  Why is his/her reasoning based on _____ instead of _____?

He/she seems to assume that _____.  What is the reasoning for that assumption?

Why would someone make that assumption?

Questions about Viewpoints and Perspectives

These are more complex questions that target worldviews and beliefs.

What does _____ imply?

When he/she says _____, is he/she implying _____?

If _____ happened, what else would happen as a result?  Why?

What effect would _____ have on _____?

If _____ and _____ are true, then what might also be true?

If we say that _____ is right, then would _____ be right too?

How might _____ respond to this issue?

How would you answer the objection that _____ would make?

How are _____’s and _____’s ideas alike?  How are they different?

How does _____ compare to Scripture?

Questions that Examine Implications and Consequences

These are more complex questions that target cause and effect relationships.

What effect would _____ have?

Could _____ really happen?

Is there an alternative to _____?

If _____ happened, what else would happen as a result?  Why?

When is _____ too much?

Questions about Questions

These are questions that allow us to evaluate the questions that we ask.

Can we break this question down at all?

Is this question clear?  Do we understand it?

Does this question ask us to evaluate something?  What?

Do we all agree that _____ is the heart of the question?

To answer this question, what other questions must be answered first?

Is this question easy or hard to answer?  Why?

Why is this question important?

Does this question lead to other important issues and questions?

To all those graduating from an elite university

I’m procrastinating right now and I came across this very interesting blog post. The original posts can be found here.

Some excerpts:


If you’re in college now, or about to graduate from college, and you come from a middle class background — especially if you are going to an Ivy League/G5 school — take the time to read a provocative essay David Brooks wrote several years ago called "The Organization Kid".

Pay attention to this if this looks like you:

I asked several [Ivy League] students to describe their daily schedules, and their replies sounded like a session of Future Workaholics of America: crew practice at dawn, classes in the morning, resident-adviser duty, lunch, study groups, classes in the afternoon, tutoring disadvantaged kids in Trenton, a cappella practice, dinner, study, science lab, prayer session, hit the StairMaster, study a few hours more…

[N]owhere did I find any real unhappiness with this state of affairs; nowhere did I find anybody who seriously considered living any other way. These super-accomplished kids aren’t working so hard because they are compelled to… It’s not the stick that drives them on, it’s the carrot. Opportunity lures them… [I]n a rich information-age country like America, promises of enjoyable work abound — at least for people as smart and ambitious as these. “I want to be this busy,” one young woman insisted, after she had described a daily schedule that would count as slave-driving if it were imposed on anyone…

That doesn’t mean that these leaders-in-training are money-mad (though they are certainly career-conscious). It means they are goal-oriented. An activity — whether it is studying, hitting the treadmill, drama group, community service, or one of the student groups they found and join in great numbers — is rarely an end in itself. It is a means for self-improvement, résumé-building, and enrichment. College is just one step on the continual stairway of advancement, and they are always aware that they must get to the next step (law school, medical school, whatever) so that they can progress up the steps after that…

They’re not trying to buck the system; they’re trying to climb it, and they are streamlined for ascent…

Kids of all stripes [today] lead lives that are structured, supervised, and stuffed with enrichment… Today’s elite kids are likely to spend their afternoons and weekends shuttling from one skill-enhancing activity to the next. By the time they reach college, they take this sort of pace for granted…

In short, at the top of the meritocratic ladder we have in America a generation of students who are extraordinarily bright, morally earnest, and incredibly industrious. They like to study and socialize in groups. They create and join organizations with great enthusiasm. They are responsible, safety-conscious, and mature. They feel no compelling need to rebel — not even a hint of one. They not only defer to authority; they admire it. “Alienation” is a word one almost never hears from them. They regard the universe as beneficent, orderly, and meaningful. At the schools and colleges where the next leadership class is being bred, one finds not angry revolutionaries, despondent slackers, or dark cynics but the Organization Kid.

Now, if your parents are middle class, or lower middle class, and you’re attending a state school or a local college, and you’re working your way through school in order to pay for tuition, you can stop reading now; you probably don’t have anything to worry about. But if you read Brooks’ essay and recognize yourself, read on.

The good news is that Brooks’ fundamental thesis is correct: kids graduating from top colleges and universities today are in many ways better prepared for achievement and success than ever before. As a group, you are better educated, better trained, more motivated, and more serious than many of your predecessors. And that is fantastic.

The risk, however, is this:

If you have lived an orchestated existence, gone to great schools, participated in lots of extracurricular activities, had parents who really concentrated hard on developing you broadly and exposing you to lots of cultural experiences, and graduated from an elite university in the first 22 or more years of your life, you are in danger of entering the real world, being smacked hard across the face by reality, and never recovering.

What do I mean? It’s possible you got all the way through those first 22 or more years and are now entering the workforce without ever really challenging yourself. This sounds silly because you’ve been working hard your whole life, but working hard is not what I’m talking about. You’ve been continuously surrounded by a state of the art parental and educational support structure — a safety net — and you have yet to make tough decisions, by yourself, in the absence of good information, and to live with the consequences of screwing up.

In my opinion, it’s now critically important to get into the real world and really challenge yourself — expose yourself to risk — put yourself in situations where you will succeed or fail by your own decisions and actions, and where that success or failure will be highly visible.

By failure I don’t mean getting a B or even a C, but rather: having your boss yell at you in front of your peers for screwing up a project, launching a product and seeing it tank, being unable to meet a ship date, missing a critical piece of information in a financial report, or getting fired.

Why? If you’re going to be a high achiever, you’re going to be in lots of situations where you’re going to be quickly making decisions in the presence of incomplete or incorrect information, under intense time pressure, and often under intense political pressure. You’re going to screw up — frequently — and the screwups will have serious consequences, and you’ll feel incredibly stupid every time. It can’t faze you — you have to be able to just get right back up and keep on going.

That may be the most valuable skill you can ever learn. Make sure you start learning it early.

Some tips for dealing with the media

The first 15 months of my career have been spent in internet start-ups. In both cases they attracted much attention from the media so I’m going to share some of my observations.

Here is my advice for what you ought to do:

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