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What is Netflix really costing you?

What is Netflix really costing you?

The true cost of Netflix

When Netflix IPO'd in May of 2002, the company was valued at a mere $300 million. Over the last 15 years Netflix has been on a rampage capturing 100 million subscribers and $81 billion in market cap. Yet Netflix has apprehended something far more valuable: our precious time.

Of course, there's a time and a place for entertainment: who doesn't enjoy getting into a good show every now and again?

However, this entertainment comes at a dear cost far exceeding the $11.99/mo membership fee. If you believe time is our most precious commodity, than we must acknowledge the massive opportunity cost that we sacrifice every night in front of the screen.

Let's start with some facts

  • The average subscriber spends 20 hours per week on Netflix
  • . . . That's 80 hours per month
  • 70% of Netflix users binge-watch shows
  • Netflix streamed 10 billion hours last month
  • The Netflix catalog is approximately 115,000 hours of content (21 years; waking hours)

Sources: DMR, CinemaBlend, Variety

20 hours per week is a lot

Let's start by acknowledging the obvious: 20 hours per week is a LOT of time. In most states, 20 hours per week is considered part-time employment. With 55 million subscribers in the US, you can say that 17% of Americans have a part-time job watching Netflix (US population = 323 million). This absurd reality provokes a crucial question: is this really the best use of our time?

The importance of personal development 

The short answer is no. Watching Netflix for 20 hours per week is likely not the best use of our time. Life is short. Really short. And for life to improve, we must heed the guidance of legends like Jim Rohn when he writes:

"Learn to work harder on yourself, than you do on the job."

Side note: if you haven't read The Art of Exceptional Living by Jim Rohn, it comes highly recommended from most of the executives we work with.

Only by building the habit of daily personal development can we truly improve our personal and professional wellbeing. Netflix is kryptonite to this endeavor.

"Want to watch a show?"

The question sounds innocent enough. Enticing, even. But next time you ask—or get asked—this question, make sure you keep this perspective in mind:

  • The typical human is awake for 15 hours per day, or 105 hours per week
  • As stated, Netflix is commanding 20 hours per week (on average)
  • 20 hours / 105 hours = 19% of our waking hours are devoted to Netflix

Breakdown: How we spend our time in a given week

Hours per week. Source:

What else could we be doing?

Below is a chart of Netflix binge sessions and their personal development equivalent.

On Netflix you could watch: Or you could: Time required
1 episode - Archer Run 2-3 miles 22 minutes
1 episode - House of Cards Write a blog post 50 minutes
2 episodes - The Blacklist Bike 20 miles 1.4 hours
3 episode - Orange is the New Black Read 82pp. of a book 2.75 hours
4 episodes - Stranger Things Learn 5 new subjects on Khan Academy 3.2 hours
Season 1 - House of Cards Complete Stanford's CS101 online 10.8 hours
Season 1 & 2 - Orange is the New Black Learn how to program in C 23.8 hours
All 5 seasons - House of Cards Train for a marathon 54.2 hours
All 7 seasons - The West Wing Become conversational in Italian 112.9 hours
All seasons - HoC, OitNB, The West Wing Read 34 of the 51 Harvard Classics 227.1 hours
21 weeks of Netflix (at 20 hours/week) Build the first version of Facebook 420 hours

You are always choosing

So the next time you're tempted to binge of Netflix, keep the above list in mind. Realize that you are always choosing: a choice to watch Netflix for 3 hours is also choice to NOT learn 5 new subjects on Khan Academy. A choice to weekendbinge on 2 seasons of your favorite show, is a choice to NOT learn how to program at a basic level. 

Every decision has tradeoffs, and the more we keep this in mind, the better off we'll be on our quest for transformative personal development.

Next episode playing in. . .

You can also disable autoplay: This one decision could help reduce your Netflix consumption by up to 50%. I'm curious: what would you do with the extra time?

Asking for money

Asking for money

A high-level overview of raising a seed round.

Unless you're flush with cash from a previous gig, most entrepreneurs need to raise money to fund their startup. The goal of this article to help you to accomplish this, or in the least share a few key factors to increase your odds of success at the seed round.

This information is derived from my experience in building a hedge fund, five years at a tech startup, and advising several founders on building their businesses. It is by no means exhaustive, but it is a first-hand account. Let's begin.

To be fair, there are (many) people that have more experience than I do, so I'd encourage you to first bookmark the following:

The above articles represent what I've found to be the crème de la crème of the fundraising literary diet (as far as articles go).

Let's start with some high-level pointers

  • Complete fundraising as soon as possible so you can return to building your product and company (the exception here is if the capital is a pre-requisite to building the business).
  • Once someone gives you the green light, move quickly: proceed to document signing and money transferring as soon as possible..
  • Ethics matter, and reputation is gold—therefore, don't f#$% anyone (especially if you're in Silicon Valley).
  • As Paul Graham says, “If the soda is empty, stop making that awful sucking sound with the straw.” Understand when a door has been closed, and part on good terms. Doors often reopen, especially in later rounds if you've grown successfully.
  • Arrogance will kill a deal. Always remember: you're asking for money.
  • Track your list of potential investors dutifully. Ask them how THEY would like to be communicated with, e.g. over coffee, emailed newsletter, via social media, sending a pitch book in the mail? Don't just email blast your stuff out because that's easier for you.

Set the stage ahead of time

Most human beings, including potential seed round VC investors, can sense desperation. It is sad, somewhat repelling, and a sure-fire way to raise zero dollars. The solution? Set the stage ahead of time.

Before you even THINK about proactively fundraising, contact the top seed and A-round investors with something to the following effect:

Dear Peter Fenton, I'd like to introduce myself to you and highlight what we're working on. [insert stuff about you - why you're a special snowflake] [insert stuff about your idea - why its unique and different]. At this stage of our growth, we are not currently fundraising. Nevertheless, we'd like to at least start a dialogue with Benchmark by providing periodic updates relevant to our business growth.  Sincerely, [You, not sounding desperate]

What happens next? Typically a VC staffer will create a file for you in their system. BINGO. You are now on file and can begin providing business updates (and eventually scheduling a pitch). Remember: set the stage ahead of time.

Work with the best

The best seed round is not necessarily the biggest or most notable investor. That would be nice, sure, but most entrepreneurs don't have that luxury. "The best" is defined by what your business needs for that time in its evolution. Ask yourself, what comes with the money?

  • Introductions to other investors?
  • A strategic advisor?
  • A new board member who's "been there before"?
  • Exposure to other portfolio companies to help figure things out?
  • Credibility?

There are many ways to define the best: perhaps you're looking for the most active VCs of Q1-2016? That would be: Sequoia, New Enterprise Associate, Lightspeed Venture Partners, KCPB, and Accel Partners. Or maybe you're interested in how VCs rank their peers, in which case you'd be looking at the likes of Sequoia, Benchmark, Accel Partners, Greylock, Andreessen Horowitz, etc. Lastly, who is on the VC Midas List for 2016?

But if you haven't yet been invited to sit at the big boys table, you're more likely to be courting close family members, successful friends, and past work colleagues. That's perfectly fine too—just keep asking yourself: what comes with the money? Can they help accelerate your growth beyond the checkbook?

The one cardinal sin

"There's really only one cardinal sin in business: running out of cash." - Ben Horowitz

Understanding cash burn is crucial. Come pitch time, the cash burn part of your financial model must be realistic and robust model including, but not limited to, headcount-driven expenses. Understanding the unit-level drivers of revenue is also critical once a company crosses into the revenue generation stage. Just remember that precision is not necessarily an indicator of accuracy.

Have a backup plan

Backup plans can include tapping debt lines, doing a bridge from insiders, reducing cash burn, and/or, in the worst case, doing a layoff (which is almost like raising a round). In general, having alternatives provide you leverage in the fundraising process.

Ideas: The Currency of Your Brain

Ideas: The Currency of Your Brain

The poor farm boy from Idaho

A young man age 25 came to the sudden realization that he was unhappy with how his life had turned out. He had grown up poor in an obscure Idaho town of 5,000 by the Snake River. After quitting college after year one, he had gotten his first job, and married at 28. He quickly found himself behind on his promises, pennies in his pocket, and creditors were calling.

And then his whole life changed. . .

Six years later—at the age of 31—he's a millionaire. This is the story of Jim Rohn, and if you haven't heard it, its a good one.

What changed?

In short, Jim Rohn met a mentor (named Earl Schoaff) who compelled him to change his life philosophy. Jim learned the importance of curating a personal life philosophy, the power of personal development, and ultimately achieved massive success.

These changes inevitably caused Jim to have new IDEAS which ultimately manifested themselves in behavior and reality. Ideas, in this way, are the currency of our brains.

This tremendous reversal of fortune is captured in Jim Rohn's landmark book The Art of Exceptional Living. If you're so inclined, you can pick up the audiobook here, or read my notes here.

Ideas: The Currency of Your Brain

Today we will focus on IDEAS, and their importance to your life's trajectory. At DBT Ventures, we place tremendous value on ideas and work to nurture our best ideas to full potential. 

Ideas are so intriguing because they influence our actions, and our actions determine how life works out. Therefore, inspecting how we SOURCE ideas is a worthwhile endeavor.

Let's start with an example. Here is Elon Musk's description of an idea he had and his subsequent thought process and action:

"Historically, all rockets have been expensive, so therefore, in the future, all rockets will be expensive. But actually that’s not true. If you say, what is a rocket made of? It’s made of aluminum, titanium, copper, carbon fiber. And you can break it down and say, what is the raw material cost of all these components? And if you have them stacked on the floor and could wave a magic wand so that the cost of rearranging the atoms was zero, then what would the cost of the rocket be? And I was like, wow, okay, it’s really small—it’s like 2% of what a rocket costs. So clearly it would be in how the atoms are arranged—so you’ve got to figure out how can we get the atoms in the right shape much more efficiently. And so I had a series of meetings on Saturdays with people, some of whom were still working at the big aerospace companies, just to try to figure out if there’s some catch here that I’m not appreciating. And I couldn’t figure it out. There doesn’t seem to be any catch. So I started SpaceX."

Source: Tim Urban's blog, Wait But Why: The Cook and the Chef (warning: this blog post consumed me for a week)

Okay, let's re-read Elon's last sentence: "So I started SpaceX." Action. And it all started with an idea: thinking about rockets being expensive, and really digging into that assumption. The rest is history in the making.


There a few quotes from Jim Rohn that really describe the value of ideas well:

  • "It is because we lack ideas that we forego success."
  • "If you experience a good idea, capture it! Write it down in your journal."
  • "When the idea is hot and the emotion is strong. . . act. Otherwise, the law of diminishing intent will work against you."
  • "Behavior is mostly influenced by ideas. Ideas are mostly influenced by education. Education is mostly influenced by the people with whom we associate."

Ideas are most impacted by two factors: 1) what we study within our own personal development, and 2) who we associate with. The good news: both of these factors are entirely within your control.

Call to action:

  1. What is your personal development habit? What time do you study and read each day?
  2. Take inventory of your friends and apply Chapter 8 from the book which will remove, reduce or expand the time you spend with positive associations.




The most underrated growth strategy in tech/SaaS

The most underrated growth strategy in tech/SaaS

By now most executives have heard of the Net Promoter Score system, aka the #1 litmus test for customer loyalty: "On a scale of 1-10 how likely are you to recommend [your company] to a friend or colleague?"

As we've written about in past DBT blog posts, the NPS responses tell you a lot. . .

Starting from the left in red:

Detractors (0-6) borderline hate you. As unhappy customers the don't say nice things about you at cocktail parties or conferences, and they certainly wouldn't recommend your company or product.

Passives (7-8) are on the fence. They are the swing states of the NPS electorate.

Promoters (9-10) fucking love you. They'd hand out your goddamn business card at the mere mention of your company. Recall, when you asked them "How likely are you to recommend us?" they said 9! or 10! Promoters are super stoked about what you're up to.

So what is the most underrated growth strategy in tech/SaaS?

To illustrate—and as a bit of a teaser—here is how the NPS thing works at most tech/SaaS companies.

  • Company: "Dear [first name], How likely are you to recommend our product to a friend or colleague?"
  • Customer: 9 !!! You guys rock !!! My whole team LOVES your product.
  • Company: [canned response] Thank you for your feedback.
  • Company: [awkward silence]
  • Company: [awkward silence]
  • Company: [random marketing update]
  • Company: [six months later]: "Dear [first name], How likely are you to recommend our product to a friend or colleague?"
  • Customer: 10 !!! It's even better than last time. Honestly, I consider you family. Well done.
  • Company: [canned response] Thank you for your feedback.
  • Company: [awkward silence]
  • Company: [awkward silence]

Meanwhile at the Company's quarterly leadership offsite. . .

Chief Revenue Officer: "Thank you all for coming to this quasi-swanky venue today. We are here—as a leadership team—to figure out our growth challenges and brainstorm how we can grow revenue faster and hit our goals for 2017. I assume you all read the pre-read [blank stares] so we'll go right into the ideation phase. Who wants to go first?"

  • VP Marketing: "What if we did more EVENTS! Like real enterprise caliber events?"
  • VP Sales: "Pipeline generation is weak. We need more support in late stage deals."
  • VP Success: "We could hire more CSMs and Support reps to help customers drive more value."
  • VP Monetization: "We could rethink our pricing and packaging. . ."
  • Everyone: "Haven't we tried that like 3 times already?"
  • VP Monetization: "Or, I mean, Product could build new features that customers really want."
  • VP Product: "I think everyone's shared some great ideas today. I'll have the PMs incorporate all of this at our next release planning."
  • VP Engineering: "I mean, can't the sales people just close more deals? Sorry, why am I here again?"

Chief Revenue Officer: "Thank you—all of you—for the very, very good ideas. Growing revenue is challenging, especially during times like these [strong eye contact with VP Sales]. We just need to roll up our sleeves and get to work."

  • EA who's at the offsite for the sheer purpose of keeping track of time and taking notes: [brazenly] "What if. . . we asked our happy customers. . . to introduce us to people they know. . . who might consider buying from us?"
  • CFO: [looks up from his computer for the first time in 1.5 hours] "Go on. . ."
  • EA: "Well, we've been doing our NPS survey for 4 years now and some of our customers are actually quite happy and gave us a 9 or 10 when we asked them would you recommend us to a friend or colleague. . ."
  • CFO: [eyebrows raised] "Are you suggesting that we ask happy customers if they'd recommend us to a friend or colleague?"
  • EA: [looks around] 
  • EA: [brazenly] "Yes."

[10 seconds of silence that feels like 10 minutes to the EA]

  • Everyone: ". . .That's AMAZING! Holy smokes. It's SO OBVIOUS—why didn't we think of that? We could ask promoters to recommend us to a friend or colleague! I mean, that's the question in the NPS survey, right? Haha, it makes SO MUCH SENSE."

EA be like:

 So what is the most underrated growth strategy in tech/SaaS? You betcha. Customer referrals. Specifically, referrals from promoters (assuming you use NPS), or overall happy customers (if you don't use NPS).

Why are referrals so valuable?

  • 1-2x higher close rates
  • Shorter deal cycles (20-50% depending on complexity)
  • Lower customer acquisition cost (CAC) due to lesser marketing spend / nurturing
  • Higher retention (customers that were introduced from a friend/colleague are more likely to stick around)
  • More referrals: customers that were introduced via referral/promoter are 2x more likely to provide additional referrals—so the whole strategy can grow exponentially if you really get behind it

That's it really. At DBT we've witnessed several tech/SaaS companies make the grave mistake of clinging to what they know: hire enterprise AEs, hire more AEs, close deals, pay generous commissions, grow revenue, attract more investors, start thinking about retention when it dips, freak out when it dips more, hire more Customer Success people, "take a step back", think market share, craft go-forward strategy, growth decelerates, freak out, schedule leadership offsite for the Company.

If you want to equip your team on how to become dangerous with referrals, check this out:

Click here to download the whole PDF

We hope you find this resource helpful to empower your account teams to have more effective conversations with your happy customers to ultimately generate more leads the close quicker and more often to ultimately drive revenue to the heights of your ambitions.

The 3 best ways to change your customers habits

The 3 best ways to change your customers habits

"To truly adopt new software, customers have to change their habits. Users must convert their aspiration into new routines."  —Tomasz Tunguz

As a partner at Redpoint Ventures, Tomasz is no stranger to the challenges software companies face. As an experienced venture capital investor, Tomasz and Redpoint have studied a variety of factors to determine What is the most correlated business metric with Series A valuations? 

The answer: negative churn. 

For the uninitiated, negative churn means that your existing customers are paying you more (expansion) than they're paying you less (churn), over a given time period. Confusingly, there are many names for this metric, all referring to the same thing: account expansion, negative net churn, net retention, net expansion.

But the takeaway here is: whatever you call it, net retention is the #1 arbiter of Series A valuations. 

In order for expansion to outpace churn, your customers have to adopt your software. And that's where habits come in. As Tomasz shares:

"I learned this selling billing and invoicing software to law firms. It was one thing to convince the managing director of a law firm to pay for the software over a 90 day sales cycle. But it was an entirely different matter to educate, convince and convert individual attorneys to use the software. That took far longer."  Source:

But how?

That's the billion-dollar question that every software company is trying to figure out.

As we've cataloged in past DBT blog posts, achieving successful adoption usually starts with empowering a team to build new habits. Two key words here: 1) team, 2) habits. 

It's no coincidence that Atlassian's ticker is TEAM. As I write the stock is trading at $22.82 with a market cap of $4.78 billion. Revenue and cash flow look like this:

Source: Google Finance, 5/24/16

Source: Google Finance, 5/24/16

Atlassian—a software company designed for teams—is growing substantially and kicking off plenty of cash because they've figured out something important: how to change customer habits.

But how does a company change customer habits? Based on five years of research, I've found the 3 best ways to change your customer habits are:

  1. Keep the executive sponsor engaged post-sale
  2. Make your product's value so undeniable they can't ignore it
  3. Triggers

Before we unpack these strategies, let's revisit the formula for how habits are created in the first place:

Source:The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg, 2014

The formula, therefore. . . HABIT = cue + routine + reward

It's a virtuous cycle of a prompted action, the action itself, and then a Pavlovian shot of dopamine to keep the cycle going. Boom. Habit created. New routine established. But back to the how. . . 

1. Keep the executive sponsor engaged post-sale

You'd be surprise how frequently the executive who made a software purchase vanishes after the product is bought. Based our DBT research, the frequency is 40% of the time. It's not his or her fault—they're busy. Very busy. Therefore, the challenge is on the account team to keep them engaged post-sale. Therefore, this strategy is both the most effective and the most within your control.

Backstory: The dirty little secret of SaaS companies is that software is incredibly easy to buy, but much harder to deploy (and therefore harder to reap the benefit of why said software was bought in the first place). Without the executive sponsor's influence, the actual users of the software are faced with a choice: 1) do what they usually do, 2) change.

As you might have guessed, they often chose option one :|

If you focus on a tight Sales >> Customer Success handoff where the executive sponsor stays involved, you will have greatly increased you chances to successfully deploy and change behavior. To do so, we recommend creating a workflow where the executive's goals are clearly documented in Salesforce so the Customer Success team can carry the torch:

2. Make the product's value so undeniable they can't ignore it

This really should be #1 but for the sake of practicality is is #2 because your product's value is (primarily) determined by your product and engineering team. If your product isn't valuable (accordingly to your customers), than this article doesn't really matter because your customers will eventually churn out.

But let's assume your product does create value. Then what?

A few things:

  • Think about the "Reward"—what makes your customers want to keep coming back and using the product? How does the product reward them for the routine the user has completed?*
  • Automate it: make that seminal value moment a thing. Celebrate it. Send them an email. A notification. Highlight the demonstrable show of value.
  • Schedule a Business Review. Pull the usage and results data from your software and showcase the value to the business user AND the Executive Sponsor.

*This is the "Reward" moment for MyFitnessPal (acquired by Under Armour for $475MM in Feb-2015).

3. Triggers

This is the step required to start the new routine. What brings your users back to the product? WHY do they come back? What prompts them to ditch their Gmail inbox and log into your software and DO STUFF? 

It's kind of like running. Personally, if I don't set our my running shoes the night before, I likely won't run. It needs to be easy. I need a trigger to brave the foggy cold air at 6am and MAKE IT HAPPEN. The trigger is often simple, but nevertheless very effective is catalyzing action.

In closing:

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”   —Aristotle

Hopefully you can influence your customers habits to help drive adoption and ultimately achieve negative net churn and thereby earn a lucrative valuation so that YOU = HAPPY.


Leadership learnings from Kerouac

Leadership learnings from Kerouac

"The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars. . ."

Jack Kerouac attended Columbia on a football scholarship. This was an ironically "All-American" start for a young man who later became a central figure in the notorious Beat Generation which defied formal academics, renounced materialism, and loathed society-anointed "values".

His life doesn't fit the profile of someone we'd typically look to for leadership advice: Jack Kerouac never became a billionaire. He didn't start a tech company or become a Fortune 500 CEO. The only "unicorns" Jack knew of were from his psychedelic encounters while driving across the country with Neal Cassady (if you haven't read On the Road, highly recommend).

But despite his lack of business credentials, Jack was a true visionary who's eccentric lifestyle yields three powerful traits for those aspiring to grow in their leadership career:

  1. Authentic: embrace your "true original" inner spirit
  2. Simple: value the elegance of simplicity over complexity
  3. Spontaneous: harness the creativity—and fun—of life's serendipity

In short, be an ASS*. 

*I couldn't write a blog post about Kerouac and leadership in good conscience without somehow incorporating his special brand of counter-cultural irreverence. So there you have it: be an ASS. I hope Kerouac would approve.

Let's expound on these traits a bit.

AUTHENTIC. What does it mean to be authentic? Why is that important to good leadership? In short, authenticity is the absence of inner bullshit. It is comfort in candor. It is the ability to embrace your "true original" inner spirit while knowing—sometimes in a self-deprecating way—both your strengths and weaknesses. Authenticity isn't just important to good leadership, it is critical. Your peers can sense posturing, conflict and optics a mile away. Being authentic is the antidote to all perceived bullshit. The best article I've ever read on this topic is Tim Urban's Why you should stop caring what other people thinkTim elucidates the idea of your Authentic Voice in a uniquely powerful way to help us all become more true to our inner authenticity.

This is step 1.

SIMPLE. Today's business world has an insatiable appetite for complexity. At times, it can make your head spin. To address this challenge, our team recently spent a full-day offsite ruminating on the idea of "exceptional simplicity" to figure our how we can do the simple parts of our job (Customer Success) exceptionally well. One CSM offered up the idea of In-N-Out burger as a tangible example of "exceptional simplicity" in practice: simple menu, consistent, tasty. Does your leadership style or business workflow resemble the menu of In-N-Out or McDonald's?

If your leadership style or business focus resembles the myriad of options on the right, it might be a good time to get back to beat basics. A the saying goes, if you have more than three priorities, you don't have priorities.

SPONTANEOUS. The Beat Generation was know to prize spontaneity, particularly as a catalyst for creativity. For today's leaders, spontaneity can be an incredibly effective trait to harness the creativity—and fun—of life's serendipity.

Why in spontaneity important? Because business is inherently NON-spontaneous. The nature of business is often planful, deliberate, and predictable. Adding a dash of spontaneity to your leadership approach can help you break through the rote monotony of the work day to unleash your team's creativity and passion.

“Whee. Sal, we gotta go and never stop going till we get there.” “Where we going, man?” “I don’t know but we gotta go.”  - Dean Moriarty speaking to Sal Paradise, i.e. Neal Cassady to Jack Kerouac; from On the Road (1951)

This isn't to suggest being spontaneous in, say, a sales forecasting meaning. . .

VP Sales: What is your expected new bookings growth in Q3 2016?

You: I don't know, could be anything! We're being spontaneous is our approach this quarter. We'll see what happens and update everyone when the impulse strikes.

{awkward silence}

{VP Sales' face gets redder, twitchy}

VP Sales: You're fired.

To be sure, process and predictability exist for very good reasons in business. By embracing spontaneity, however, you can amplify your special brand of leadership and set yourself apart.

How you can be spontaneous as a leader:

  • Instead of taking your next meeting in a conference room, ask the other person if they'd be open to going for a walk
  • Surprise your team with an unplanned team lunch outside the office
  • Share positive feedback on the fly
  • Instead of your typical team meeting, take your team to a nearby park and draw stuff on construction paper
  • Hire Speechless to deliver their (amazing) improv session with your team

Okay, let's recap:

Leadership learnings from Jack Kerouac. In short, be an ASS!

  1. Authentic: embrace your "true original" inner spirit
  2. Simple: value the elegance of simplicity over complexity
  3. Spontaneous: harness the creativity—and fun—of life's serendipity

Let's make Jack Kerouac proud. Let's go Further.

Wisdom from the Grove - Part 3

For those of you just joining us, this is part 3 of a series inspired by Andy Grove's epic book, High Output Management. You can find Part I and II here and here, respectively. So far we've reviewed pages 1-100. This post will cover pages 101-150.

Intel Plant, Philippines, 2007

We'll start with the awkward stuff. One of the main business decisions in this section—whether or not to open an Intel plant in the Philippines, and if so, where—is showcased to highlight the efficacy of 1) the "mission-oriented" meeting structure, and 2) Intel's decision-making process.

That's all fine and good, especially if you were in Cavite circa 2002 and you hear that Intel is pumping almost $100MM into your local economy.

However—and this is the awkward part—Intel actually shut down the Philippines plant and laid of 1,800 workers only 7 years later. Admittedly, it was during the worst bear market in over 75 years, but its worth noting that even the best management teams can't forecast macro demand forces more than a few years out.

Notes from pp. 101-150 of High Output Management

Let's start with a few quotes to warm up the tires:

  • "We must realize—and act on the realization—that if we try to focus on everything, we focus on nothing."
  • "I have seen far too many people who upon recognizing today's gap try very hard to determine what decision has to be made to close it. But today's gap represents a failure of planning sometime in the past."
  • "What do I have to do today to solve—or better, avoid—tomorrow's problem?"
  • "If you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there."
  • "It is entirely possible for a subordinate to perform well and be rated well even though he missed his specified objective." [Christopher Columbus analogy: he failed his Measurable Business Outcome (MBO)—find a new route to the Orient—but discovered the New World, thereby achieving Queen Isabella's objective: increase Spain's wealth]

Let this be a reminder that the DBT Ventures team members do not take ourselves too seriously. At times, while reading pp. 101-150 of High Output Management, it became fairly apparent that Andy Grove is ALL BUSINESS. Some levity would have helped lighten these dogmatic pages, but nevertheless he adeptly covers four topics:

  1. Planning: today's actions for tomorrow's output
  2. Hybrid organizations: a blend of mission-oriented and functional groups
  3. Dual reporting: when a individual contributor reports to two people
  4. Modes of control: different ways to make other people your bitch

With regards to Planning, most of the material presented is from the perspective of a manufacturer, specifically to forecast environmental demand, establishing current capacity, and creating a strategy to address the gap (or surplus). Andy doesn't do the work for you, but he provides a basic framework for thinking about planning.

Within Hybrid organizations Andy emphasizes something most of us already know: the vast majority of companies are "hybrid" orgs, meaning they have elements of both mission-oriented and functional organizations. No need to really rehash all that here.

Moving on to Dual reporting, we learn that at times it makes sense to have a single IC report to two different people simultaneously, especially if distance/region is a factor. That's about it.

Perhaps the most frustrating of the four, Modes of control delineates Andy's view of how to make other people your bitch. He of course doesn't write it this way, but that is exactly what the intended output is. He contends you can control people's behavior in the workplace via:

  • Free-market forces: price, as determined by counter parties operating under self-interest
  • Contractual obligations: written agreements with considerable overhead required
  • Cultural values: common set of values, objectives and methods

Andy then details the role of management in all of this, specifically how they 1) articulate and 2) embody cultural values. To identify the most appropriate mode of control, Andy presents the below chart along with a "CUA Factor" which stands for Complexity, Uncertainty, and Ambiguity to create a spectrum to reflect the nature of the environment for the worker.

The big takeaway here is: when the work environment is complex (high CUA) and individual motivation is based on self-interest, NO MODE OF CONTROL WILL WORK WELL. This is telling, because it is the representative of many of today's scenarios and illustrates just why management is so challenging.


Modes of Control, p. 149

Wisdom from the Grove - Part 2

This is Part II of a series inspired by Andy Grove's monumental business book, High Output Management. This series is designed for busy leaders seeking an edge on their day. Based on your feedback, we'll be breaking down Groves's 227 power-packed pages into 50-page summaries presented in actionable note format. But first, Dilbert.

If you're just joining us, be sure to read Wisdom from the Grove - Part I, the prelude to this post. 

Notes from pp. 51-100 of High Output Management

Before we jump in, its worth noting the structure of this book: 16 oddly-named chapters spanning four parts.

Part I: The Breakfast Factory

  • The basics of production: Delivering a Breakfast (or a College Graduate, or a Compiler, or a Convicted Criminal. . .)
  • Managing the breakfast factory

Part II: Management is a Team Game

  • Managerial leverage
  • Meetings—the medium of managerial work
  • Decisions, decisions
  • Planning: today's actions for tomorrow's output

Part III: Team of Teams

  • The breakfast factory goes national
  • Hybrid organizations
  • Dual reporting
  • Modes of control

Part IV: The Players

  • The sports analogy
  • Task-relevant maturity
  • Performance appraisal: manager as judge and jury
  • Two difficult task
  • Compensations as task-relevant feedback
  • Why training is the boss' job

The reason I've laid out the whole TOC is to 1) provide a lay of the land, and 2) share that this post will cover the last 3 bullet points of Part II which will put us about 50% through the book.

We'll start with a few quotes which highly Grove's prescient perspective:

  • "Beyond communicating facts, a manager must relay his objectives, preferences, and priorities". . .  [these are] "extremely important and a key part of delegation."
  • "How you handle your own time is the singly most important aspect of being a role model and leader."
  • "Because it is easier to monitor something with which you are familiar, you should delegate activities you know best."
  • "If people are spending more than 25% of their time in ad-hoc, mission-oriented meetings, you're likely facing malorganization [disfunction]."—which Grove attributes primarily to the ineffectiveness (or lack of) process-oriented meetings
  • "A meeting to make a decision should have at most 6-7 people, ideally less."

The premise of Part II is management is a team game. Andy supports this with best practices for getting shit done, i.e. humans working effectively with one another.

Wisdom from the Grove - Part 1

This is Part 1 of a series inspired by Andy Grove's monumental business book, High Output Management. This series is designed for busy leaders seeking an edge on their day. Based on your feedback, we'll be breaking down Groves's 227 power-packed pages into 50-page summaries presented in actionable note format.

Notes from the first 50 pages of High Output Management

We'll start with a few quotes to get the motor running:

  • "Let chaos reign, then rein in chaos." I don't even know what this quote means, but it somehow imparts a zen-like acceptance of business craziness with calm control.
  • "The output of a manager is the output of the organizational units under his or her supervision or influence." — Andy highlights this as the most important sentence in the book
  • "Activity is what we actually do and often seems trivial. Output is what we achieve and is significant and worthwhile."
  • "In the softer professions it becomes very hard to distinguish between activity and output. Aim to maximize output. Optimizing for activity can actually decrease productivity.
  • "Output and activity are by no means the same thing."

Andy is a big proponent of increasing managerial "leverage", i.e. focusing on activities with a multiplicative impact on your team's output. Andy later challenges the reader (the former President of Intel challenges YOU) with 13 opportunities to take action on increasing their managerial leverage.

Here are the best five:

  1. Define the three most important objectives for your organization for the next three months. Support them with key results. (For tech readers: yes, this is where OKRs originated from)
  2. Look at your calendar for the last two weeks. Classify your activities as LOW, MEDIUM or HIGH leverage. Generate a plan of action to do more of the HIGH-leverage category. Identify two activities you will commit to reduce.
  3. Define your output. What are the output elements of the organization you manage and influence? List them in order of importance.
  4. Conduct work simplification (reduction of steps) on your most tedious, time-consuming task. Eliminate at least 30 percent of the total number of steps involved.
  5. Walk around more. Andy was a big believer in taking "tours" of other teams and facilities to absorb their process, habits  and challenges. Similar to Steve Jobs, Andy seems to value serendipitous encounters which help encourage the flow of information.

Other select notes:

  • p. 14 - think of your work as production measured by throughput / output. What is your "limiting step" [dependency]? What is your "in-process check" [QA]?
  • p. 17 - for each indicator try to have a "pairing indicator" to measure both effect and counter effect, especially for administrative work, e.g. quantity AND quality
  • p. 24 - "the most valuable indicator of business trends that I've ever seen is a month-over-month 4-month stagger chart forecast [pictured below]
  • p. 28 - don't forget Parkinson's famous law that "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion
  • p. 35 - "work simplification" entails reducing the number of steps in a given process, usually by 30-50% based on Andy's experience
  • p. 48 - writing reports may seem mundane, but are often an exercise—or medium—of self-discipline; the process enforces discipline, and the writing is often more important than reading them
  • p.49 - Grove advocates ad hoc in-person meetings as the most effective method to conduct managerial business
  • p. 50 - beyond communicating facts, a manager must relay his objectives, preferences, and priorities which is an extremely important and key part of delegation

Here's that 4-month stagger forecast that was mentioned on page 24:

In closing, its worth mentioning that Andy Grove applied many of Abraham Maslow's psychological concepts within the work environment. For that reason we've included the now-famous hierarchy of needs applied to employee engagement.

How would you evaluate your team?

Superforecasting to the rescue (again)

Superforecasting to the rescue (again)

Welcome back to forecaster training, inspired by Part V of's Master Class in Superforecasting. The unique skill of superforecasting resonates deeply with DBT Ventures due, in part, to the immense impact across the four key components of the DBT endeavor: ideas, data science, customer success, and leadership.

This segment draws heavily from Danny's contingent valuation experiments which, if you haven't perused before, are a hygienic read (1,832 academic citations agree).

The contingent value experiments reveal the similarity between 3 superficially very different things:

  1. Subject's judgement of value, i.e. scope sensitivity
  2. Likelihood of an event happening between 2 different time periods
  3. Scenario bias

For example what is more probable: the first scenario, or the second?


. . . while continuing to manifest a vexing problem: people's judgement of explanations and forecasting accuracy are vulnerable to rich narratives, i.e. attribute substitution. 

We can also fall prey to assigning too much probability to too many possibilities which violates the axiom of probabilities to begin with.

Yet scenarios CAN be useful when thinking backward in time. The relationship between counterfactuals and hindsight bias (which we discussed previously) is powerful.

Getting people to imagine counterfactual alternatives to reality is a way of counteracting hindsight bias. Hindsight bias is a difficulty people have remembering past dates of ignorance. Counterfactual scenarios can reconnect us to our past states of ignorance. And that can be a useful, humbling exercise. Its good mental hygiene. Its useful for de-biasing. 

"One learns from Shakespeare that self-overhearing is the prime function of soliloquy. Hamlet teaches us how to talk to oneself, and not how to talk to others." -Harold Bloom

Get people to listen to themselves think about how they think, i.e. can you build the capacity to listen to yourself talk to yourself. . . and decide if you like what you hear, a fleeting achievement of consciousness to be sure, but relevant to superforecasting nonetheless.

So how can superforecasting improve the world? Well, we could use forecasting skills to improve the quality of high-stakes policy debate. Today's political discourse is NOT motivated by pure accuracy goals. Quite the opposite. And political pundits have a myriad of habits/tactics/issues which actively remove accuracy from the conversation:

  • Ego defense
  • Self-promotion
  • Loyalty to a community of co-believers
  • Rhetorical obfuscation
  • Attribute substitution (big one)
  • Functionalist blurring, and—one of the most pervasive—
  • Super (qualified) forecasting

So what should we do? Introduce a superforecasting tournament in order to disrupt "stale-status heirarchies" and invite pundits to compete. Boom. Politics solved.


A patent flyby

Today we will take a 30,000-ft flyby tour of the wonderful world of patents. First, let's start by clearly defining what a patent actually is: A patent is a set of exclusive rights granted by a sovereign state to an inventor or assignee for a limited period of time in exchange for detailed public disclosure of an invention. An invention is a solution to a specific technological problem and is a product or a process. Patents are a form of intellectual property.

Good, glad we got that out of the way.

Once your patent application is approved, you get a patent. It shows up in the mail and looks like this (I know because I have a few):

What's important to know ahead of time, is the government is a bureaucratic entity and grossly inefficient. The patent application process is cumbersome, redundant, slow and expensive. Its good to embrace this expectation now so you don't turn back mid-flight.

It's not the government's fault entirely—volume surely plays a part too. For example, in 2014 there were 615,243 patent applications. That's a lot of applications to sift through (about 1,685 per day) each with the requisite formwork. Interested? Here is where you can find all the forms needed to file your very own patent application. 

Not sure if you want to go all in? You have a quicker, less-expensive option: behold, the provisional patent. Have you ever seen "patent pending" on a doohickey? You guessed it: the doohickey's inventor used a provisional patent to temporarily protect his or her idea to 1) lock in the filing date, and 2) allow more time to file a non-provisional patent in parallel.

Provisional patents are, as far as patent law goes, interesting. It's important to know their history:

Since June 8, 1995, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has offered inventors the option of filing a provisional application for patent which was designed to provide a lower-cost first patent filing in the United States and to give U.S. applicants parity with foreign applicants under the GATT Uruguay Round Agreements [you don't need to know this].

A provisional application for patent (provisional application) is a U.S. national application filed in the USPTO under 35 U.S.C. §111(b). A provisional application is not required to have a formal patent claim or an oath or declaration. Provisional applications also should not include any information disclosure (prior art) statement since provisional applications are not examined. A provisional application provides the means to establish an early effective filing date in a later filed nonprovisional patent application filed under 35 U.S.C. §111(a). It also allows the term "Patent Pending" to be applied in connection with the description of the invention.

See the part I put in italics? That's the part you should know. In short, a provisional patent is a cost-effective way to start the patent clock ticking and give yourself 12 months to file a non-provisional patent (if you decide to). Your invention could, after all, suck. And who wants to go through a lengthy patent application process for a sucky invention? No one.

To be complete, a provisional application must also include the filing fee as set forth in 37 CFR 1.16(d) and a cover sheet* identifying:

  • the application as a provisional application for patent;
  • the name(s) of all inventors;
  • inventor residence(s);
  • title of the invention;
  • name and registration number of attorney or agent and docket number (if applicable);
  • correspondence address; and
  • any U.S. Government agency that has a property interest in the application.

A cover sheet, form PTO/SB/16, pages 1 and 2, is available at

Enough boring forms already.

Allow me to share the story of the most valuable patent in history: 

Lipitor, a cholesterol-lowering drug used to help reduce heart attack and stroke risk, represents the most value patent in history. It actually expired on June 28, 2011. We'll get to that later.


Pfizer filed a patent application for Lipitor on 2/26/91, which issued on 12/28/93. The product was launched in the market in 1997, with revenues peaking at $12.6 billion in 2006. By the end of 2009, total revenue was greater than $105 billion. Yes, you read that correctly. $105 billion. It became the most profitable patent ever produced, making it more valuable than most companies in the S&P 500. However, when it expired in 2011, the patent became worthless.

Based on this information, why would a company use patents?

Patents provide protection in a variety of ways. They give the owner the exclusive right to exclude someone from practicing the invention in the market. They protect something functional or utilized (e.g., new engine design, drug compound). They allow for abnormal market profits inherent in the monopolistic nature of a patent, and patent owners can price skim if patent utility presents a strong value proposition. Furthermore, patents can command treble damages for willful infringement.

While advantages exist with patents, several disadvantages must also be considered:

  • Patents are expensive. One patent can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000. An international patent can cost upwards of $250,000!
  • Patents have short useful lives, with the typical statutory life of 20 years or less.
  • Patents require full disclosure, revealing specific design information to competitors.
  • Patents lose value every day on a present value basis.
  • Lastly, patents are expensive to defend. A typical patent lawsuit in the United States costs $3 million or more.

The team at DBT Ventures hopes you found this patent flyby helpful and/or interesting. Comments welcome!

Effort without consistency is like interest without compounding

Effort without consistency is like interest without compounding

There is a battle underway, and most of us are losing. This isn't a battle overseas with platoons strategizing their next move. This is a battle of the mind. A battle for mindshare. To the victor goes our cognitive focus.


We fight this battle daily: hundreds of emails, native ads, social media intrusions—all of which are enabled by the average person's insatiable need to check our smartphone (the latest research suggests we do this at least 150 times per day). For the mathematicians in the house, that's once every 10 minutes over 14 waking hours (at a minimum). 

What we sacrifice is focus. Focus is becoming a scarce resource for today's knowledge worker and leader. And when we sacrifice focus we dilute our EFFORT, and therefore, results.

Effort with consistency is like interesting without compounding.

This troublesome dynamic is supported by a mountain of literature, e.g Harvard Business Review's The Cost of Continuously Checking Email.

But there's no value is denying this reality, so we must adapt. Therefore, we'd like to offer our readers a few thoughts on how to navigate this battlefield, particularly when is comes to goals.

In my view, there are two types of goals:

  1. Binary: you either accomplished the goal, or you didn't; it’s a singular, one-time deal.

  2. Recurring: an activity you seek to repeat by (hopefully) forming systems/habits.

For example, a binary goal might be: I will summit Mt. Everest by July 4th, 2017. You are either going to summit Mt. Everest by July 4th (and triumphantly stake an American Flag), or you will fail to summit Mt. Everest. There is a singular moment of accomplishment or attainment. Most executives track their quarterly goals on a goal sheet and cross them off upon completion.

Recurring goals are repeating by nature: you must accomplish the goal routinely, over time. For example: I will practice Transcendental Meditations twice a day for 15 minutes for 5 days per week. A recurring goal is designed to form a habit—a very powerful human ability. We define success as having accomplished 80% of activities you set out to do, e.g. a goal of meditating 5 days per week—or 60 times per quarter—would be deemed “completed” if you meditated 48 times (80% x 60).

Today's digital battlefield of distraction makes recurring goals extremely challenging. To win, we need to extract our recurring goals from our goal sheet into a separate system.

For your consideration, we offer you: The DBT Recurring Goal Sheet. 

As the saying goes, If you can't measure it, you can't manage it. How else can you really track a dozen or so recurring goals with any truthfulness? The above framework provides a simple process for tallying your progress for all goals that aren't a singular, binary event.

To get a copy of the DBT Recurring Goals Sheet along with our DBT Goal Sheet (Binary + Recurring on 1 page) within our Leadership Library, please navigate to the Contact page and fill out the form so we can email it to you (we promise not to spam).

We hope you find these two pieces of artillery helpful in the battle for mindshare to accomplish your professional goals.

5 Traits of Best-in-Class Optimization Teams

5 Traits of Best-in-Class Optimization Teams

What are your best customers doing?

That is the #1 question I hear from customers on a day-to-day basis. How do others companies do optimization and testing? It’s a great question.

Based on thousands of interactions with Optimizely customers and four years of enterprise enablement, I can confidently point to five traits that all best-in-class optimization teams possess:

  1. They’ve established a habit of optimization.
  2. There is a clear “owner” of the optimization program.
  3. The C-suite cares about optimization (and acts on it).
  4. Optimization goals are aligned with key company metrics.
  5. They make it fun.

1. They’ve established a habit of optimization.


“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”


Today, Aristotle’s adage above still rings true. It also highlights a cornerstones of all successful optimization programs: HABIT.

In Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit we learn that habits are a three-step loop: cue, routine, reward. The cue is what triggers the routine. Thankfully, when Google launched Google Calendar in April of 2006 humans obtained an easy way to design their own cues. Enter: the “repeating” meeting for the win.

Sounds trivial, but all of our best customers embrace some form of the recurring meeting format. It is the forcing function that furthers their optimization endeavor.

Do you have a repeating meeting on your calendar to create your company’s optimization habit?

A few other examples of habit-forming meetings:

  • Weekly optimization standup (Forbes)—technical review of pre-launch experiments
  • Weekly results review (—identify learnings from completed tests
  • Quarterly KPI evaluation (Crate & Barrel)—goal alignment, deliverables for the quarter
  • Weekly prioritization meeting (TicketMaster)—stack rank based on effort vs. impact quadrants

2. There is a clear “owner” of the optimization program.

When it comes to execution, a world-class optimization program relies on people. Humans who work to design, manage, and ultimately execute against a plan.

Whether your team is an army-of-one or 50+ people, the linchpin is most certainly the program manager, e.g. the optimization “owner”.

Ask yourself: Who wakes up in the morning and thinks about optimization at my company? If there isn’t an owner, assign one or hire one. Otherwise your optimization program will likely flatline.

Here is what this role typically looks like on LinkedIn:

This critical role takes the time to:

  • Crowd-source testing ideas from the org
  • Consolidate them in a testing backlog
  • Prioritize the backlog based on KPIs and effort vs. impact
  • Communicate with—and get buy-in from—stakeholders
  • Green light tests for execution in a centralized project plan (see below)
  • Track and communicate results and inferred learnings
  • Iterate. Use what was learned to inform the go-forward strategy.

This is a lot of work for someone who isn’t 100% committed. For this reason, they can’t be a part-time lover (yes, that’s a Stevie Wonder reference on an optimization blog).

If you don’t have the resources internally, its not the end of the world. Look to evaluate Solutions Partners who can help steer the ship for you.

Sidenote: Best-in-class programs also have substantial access to developer/IT resources. If you don’t have this benefit, it might be time to make some new friends in that group. Arming yourself with Red Bull, quirky dev humor, and knowledge of the new Civ will earn you major points. Developer support of your optimization program will add substantial octane to the engine. Rev it up!

3. The C-Suite cares about optimization (and acts on it).

If your leadership team cares about A/B testing and optimization you’re in good place. But talk is cheap, so we look for clues that they actually walk the talk. Does your leadership team:

  • Allocate strategy & technical resources to optimization?
  • Review results regularly?
  • Suggest ideas for testing?
  • Say, “I don’t know, let’s test it”? or “We should test that.”
  • Provide guidance and direction on quarterly optimization goals?
  • Prevent certain stakeholders from blocking the deployment of winning tests?

Without executive sponsorship, building a best-in-class optimization program can be a scratch & claw uphill battle. The Roadmap to Building a Testing Culture eBook contains a number of ideas to get their buy-in.

4. Optimization goals are aligned with key company metrics.

In our 6 Best Practices article we highlight “defining quantifiable success metrics” as the #1 driver of success. But the industry leaders take it a step further: their testing goals are not only well-defined, but also aligned with their key company metrics. For example, a retail website like The Honest Company would align their goals as such:

This alignment helps them deprioritize less-relevant tests by keeping their eye of the prize, i.e. improve Customer Lifetime Value, and ensures your testing program doesn’t go off the rails into random-behavior land.

(Disclaimer: I don’t agree with the premise of this cartoon at all, but I do think its hilarious.)

5. They make it fun.

The best-in-class companies make optimization fun.

Three weeks ago I attended the Zappos Culture Camp: a 3-day deep dive into their special sauce that’s fueled their ridiculous growth to $1B+ in revenue and compelled Amazon to acquire them in 2009 for 40x EBITDA. It’s also worth mentioning that Zappos AOV is ~$130 vs. Amazon’s ~$50. Boom goes the dynamite.

Impressive numbers aside, Zappos is unique for another reason: they’ve built a company culture that intentionally values fun, e.g. Zappos Family Core Value #3: Create Fun and a Little Weirdness.

Here are a few ways we’ve seen optimization made fun:

  • Submit an idea competition! (IGN)
  • Test of the week/month (
  • Quarterly A/B Headline Hackathon (CNN)
  • Company-wide recognition for the person that suggested a winning experiment (A&E)
  • Host a quarterly off-site and invite optimization experts to speak (Mozilla)

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this! If something resonated with you—or I completely missed something—please post a comment below.

Don’t forget the technical side…

The 5 traits above are mostly organizational & non-technical in nature. I’d be remiss to not mention the technical side of the optimization yin-yang. Here are the 3 Technical Best Practices we recommend based on best-in-class optimization programs:

1. They make their product and visitor data available client-side.

  • This is a game-changer.
  • This could be in the form of cookies, Javascript variables, custom tags, etc.
  • This is really important because you—as a technical person—have now enabled non-technical folks to leverage the data that’s available.

2. They really understand all the nooks & crannies of their site.

  • What cookies does your company already use? What’s in those cookies?
  • How do you leverage the cookie data for optimization and personalization?
  • Knowledge of their website(s) page hierarchy and URL structure
  • Strong grasp of the moving parts of your site: dynamic content, AJAX, etc.

3. They ensure that existing processes doesn’t stand in the way of velocity from a development perspective.

  • Streamlined QA and development process due to the reduction of red tape
  • Is it really necessary to create a fully functional design and requirements doc for a CTA or image change?
  • Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.