Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Weekly Use

I was reading this old post, and I was wondering which sites that I use on a daily basis, a few months later. One of the Google cofounders said that there's a toothbrush test: what is useful and is used once or more a day? My test is what is used at least once per week, according to my browser history.

  • A bajillion news sites
  • News.Ycombinator.Com
  • Feedly
  • Twitter
  • Gmail
  • Kindle Cloud Reader
  • Bing (because of Bing Rewards - I've found that I still have to use Google for Finance and if Bing can't serve up satisfactory results. MSN money is better for hardcore investors. Google Finance is good for casual dilettantes.)
  • 750words
  • The Wordpress site of my new business
  • Google Voice
  • Wikipedia
  • AVC
  • ERE
  • MMM
  • TechCrunch
  • McKinsey
  • Amazon
  • MOOCs: Coursera and NovoEd (sometimes Udacity)
  • Kboards
  • Youtube (especially JennaMarbles)
  • Startup where I work as an independent contractor
  • Blogger (obviously, ha)
That list summarizes probably more than 80% of my Internet usage. I have a bunch of Google products listed, as well as two separate Amazon products.

It's not a smooth segue between the China article and this one, but I was really looking at what I use on a daily or weekly basis. Most of these services are free, with the major exception of 750words. I use Feedly more often than NewsBlur, but I do always revert to NewsBlur when Feedly goes down or errors out, which it occasionally does. For a few days, I may have to switch back to NewsBlur. I couldn't deal with their reliability issues, but I still believe in open source work, and I had no interest in hosting it myself. It made sense then and makes sense now to pay someone for the work that he does, because it does help me. I just don't use it normally.

You know what sites aren't on the list? WSJ and NYT. I still probably hit them weekly or slightly less frequently (they fall under the bajillion umbrella), but they aren't daily sites for me. NYT doesn't allow basically any traffic from Google Chrome. WSJ is always full of interesting news, and I love it; however, it's far too expensive. It's actually cheaper to get the paper version. However, I just read it when I'm at the library. I also try to backdoor into it, and I normally fail. The WSJ paywall is extremely strong. The NYT's isn't as porous as it used to be. That's why we direct traffic away from the paid sites into the ones that can still tell use what's going on. See an example of Fred Wilson doing it.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Review of Jarvis, the AI plus College-educated, US-based assistant

The Beginning

I got curious about Jarvis when I read about it in TechCrunch. I am not in a position to hire a full-time assistant; in fact, I rather suspect that my part-time job is as an AI augmenter, frankly. 

You can see a quick demo of where they were in September 2013. You can also reach even further back to January 2012. There seems to be a Jarvis OS that can integrate with your home, so there may be crossover with the January 2012 post; it could also be an independent project.

I did get interested enough, after an exchange with a bestselling author's sweet and responsive assistant, to sign up on the wait list. I thought that it would be like BankSimple's wait list, where I waited for a really long time before the service went live to outsiders.

I was wrong.

Jarvis Contacts Me

They sent me an email that I had just signed up on their wait list 18 hours ago, which was pretty prompt. Because my Internet was out (important detail), I signed up using my phone. Surprisingly, their interface was good enough to be responsive on mobile. They integrated with Stripe to take my number, and of course the UI of Stripe is gorgeous and easy.

I figured that I could stay there for the 7-day trial at least.

Day 1, which became Day 2

I had zero idea of how to use a personal assistant. I've never had one, and I'm a very DIY person, thanks to reading ERE for more than 5 years. Most people put me in the shade (all the others really do everything on their own), but I'm probably the weakest person you can be and still consider yourself an EREr.

The first SMS I got said hello and asked me what I didn't want to do today. It also said that I could ask for ideas, if I didn't have any.

I asked for ideas. I wanted to sound out the service and its uses.

Jarvis gave me the list which is on the FAQ page. That they could wait on the phone to talk to customer service interested me, since that's a major pain point for almost everybody. I've waited an enormous amount of time on the phone for someone to pick up, and if you could outsource it, it would be well worth $99 a month, which is the cheapest plan that you can get. You can have unlimited 15-minute tasks, so I asked how long they would stay on the line. I've definitely called customer service and waited longer than 15 minutes. They said that they would do it for an hour.

As I said above, my Internet was out, so I started to ask questions that you could Google. I was interested in response times. I know that there's a person behind the computer, which means that the answers I would get might be even better filtered than Google can do (an impressive feat).

Exchange with Jarvis
All of these times are EST. Even though I'm now living in Wisconsin, my account is primarily still in EST.

Their starter plan says that Jarvis will respond instantly and that tasks will be completed in 8 hours. According to one test case, that's not true. I got pretty quick response times initially, but the coworking request took them a relatively long time. My question was sent at 5:28 PM EST, and I got the answer at 10:57 AM EST the next day. When I checked in at 7:18 AM EST, they responded more than 3 hours later.

I've never had a personal assistant before. However, and maybe this is because I have a background in Quality Assurance, I'd like for things to do what they say on the box. The lag is inconsistent with what their marketing materials say.

I'm already in freight class because I'm going with their cheapest plan. Executives get tasks done in 4 hours while Jetsetters get them in 1. However, they aren't even keeping up with freight class waiting 8 hours for a 15-minute task. If Jarvis is available 24/7, then why did one question that can be easily researched online take that long?

More than anything, it made me question the processes that they are using to keep their promises. What QA are they doing? What kind of end-user feedback are they collecting?


They tell you upfront that it's easy to cancel. You can text Jarvis that you want to cancel. There's also a place to do it on the account page on I just did it online, after Jarvis got back to me on the Bowker question. When I hit the cancel button, they asked me if I was sure and wanted me to call them. I did click through, and I did cancel it during the 7-day trial.

Target Market: Time-Crunched Professionals

I'm not their target market. Jarvis is catering to the kind of person who exists in Silicon Valley and/or executives. Their plans which allow scheduling TaskRabbits are really meant for the kind of people who can afford and use TaskRabbits. I'm not one of those people. I'm probably most likely to be a TaskRabbit. I'm solidly on the serf side of the new inequality.

Jarvis is like Alfred, except Alfred is basically the housekeeper you wish you had. Jarvis is an interface which insulates you from the small annoyances of life. You'll never have to wait on the phone to talk to customer service again. You'll never have to answer your deluge of emails from random weirdos. (I have never read Mark Cuban's inbox, but I'm guessing part of it looks like the comment section of his blog.) If you go with the 2 more expensive plans, they'll answer your emails for you.

I feel weird about someone else answering my emails, even if I ever get the level where Fred Wilson is with 700-900 emails per day. I don't use Yesterbox yet, because I have little to no email where I need to respond via email.

I checked my sent messages over the last few months. In the last month, I primarily emailed my roommate, my family, the apartment managers, and my cover designers. That's not a long list of people, and it's unlikely that I'd need to outsource email responses to a third-party service.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Quick Lessons from 6 Weeks of Entrepreneurship

I'm an entrepreneur, and there are a lot of lessons learned just in the past month and a half.

1. Time is an artificial construct. When you work for yourself, you can get the job done when you want to. Results are all that matter.

2. It's very easy to do low value things. I learned this from Ramit Sethi early on. You need 3 customers, not Twitter, Facebook, or business cards.

3. Keep track of receipts, and make sure that you have an accounting system. I always thought that I'd be so good at this. When I entered college, I was going to be an accounting major. I definitely have kept track of trip and business expenses when traveling for my old job. It's harder than it looks, but I started using Zen99 very early on. Zen99 is my source of truth, and it doesn't even charge me to export my data! Hurray. Even though the interface is primarily geared towards self-employed drivers, it is still a godsend for someone just starting out. At some point, I'll need to find an accountant to get sorted out. For now, just keeping track is good enough for me.
Source: AndroidPit

I keep copies of physical receipts in Shoeboxed, which can automatically recognize how much the receipt is for. It also has better categories than Zen99 for expenses. I needed to pay a professional to make a logo for me, and Shoeboxed has the capability to recognize that sort of transaction. On Zen99, all of my transactions are Other or Office Supplies.

I'll be sure to post about new lessons as I move forward.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Sharing Economy: Perspective of an Uber Driver and TechCrunch columnist

I'm increasingly interested in the sharing economy. San Francisco is a microcosm of income inequality.

Peter, Uber, and the Sharing Economy

I read a Quora answer today about one person's experience in the sharing economy as an Uber driver. He was someone who lived in San Francisco and grew up in Berkeley. He grosses about $72,000 but makes about $45,000 after expenses. Other answers to the same question indicate that it's difficult to make it as an Uber driver; there are no sick days.

Someone asked him why he wouldn't move. He had an interesting answer. Looking at his other answers, he has worked in a variety of places. My immediate thought was that he could make more as a Kitchensurfing chef (8 people at $100/night would mean working two nights a week and still exceeding his current gross of $1500 per week), but they aren't in SF.

Jon Evans and the Sharing Economy

People have recently been writing about the sharing economy, and one is Jon Evans, who I referenced when I talked about the new feudalism in the technology companies.

He's identified the inevitable slide into an Extremistan world. There simply aren't enough 9 to 5 jobs for everyone in the American economy. I personally have a part-time job, too, though it's by choice, partly because my former job was more like a 7:30 to 7 job.

I don't think that it's a terrible thing to have additional small jobs for everyone. It does mean that everyone gets a piece of the pie; would you rather have two families barely able to afford housing and food (rooffood), or one completely destitute family and one middle class one?

Sidejobs and Employing SAHMs

There are those who have spare time and do TaskRabbit jobs in their spare time. Peter says that in Indianapolis Uber was hiring soccer moms, as if that was a bad thing. I grew up in the suburbs of Indianapolis, and Uber might be a good answer. 

Etsy is already facilitating the slide of the cottage industry; women who are stay-at-home mothers can make side money on their own time. Uber allows them to do the same.

Barbara Ehrenreich talked about how impossible it was to make it as a pretend single mom. Anything with mother's hours tends to have horribly low pay for very hard work.

I don't think there's anything wrong with Uber recruiting soccer moms. A job that would fit into the 9-2 slot when the kids are in school is a good job for mom, and it helps pay for the extras, like extra flute lessons. Soccer moms also tend to have the new cars that Uber requires. You can work as little or as much as you like, so if you want to stay at home with your sick child, you don't have to check in with your boss or use your sick leave. You just don't work that day.

Peter from the Quora example grosses about $33 per hour, if you take the high range of his hours at 5 9 hour shifts per week. That's really not bad for a job that lets you set your own hours, especially if you have a husband who already has a job that provides health insurance for the family.  It's a local job, and you'll never need to move for it. It won't conflict with your partner's career.

Controlling Costs: Tesla and Uber

You can also diminish some of the costs of driving for Uber that Peter mentioned. If you have a Tesla, you can pay around $378 per month after savings for a Model S. You might be driving more, but it's also crazy that you'd pay $251 per month for gas for a normal person. They figure that a normal person drives 30k miles per year. Peter says that he pays $800 a month per gas and gets an oil change every month or so; those are costs that are nearly eliminated with a Tesla. You will have to pay for electricity, especially because Tesla hasn't yet opened its Indianapolis SuperCharger station; however, the cost isn't $800 per month. 
Former CEO of Boloco

It's not a perfect job, but you get better ratings when you drive a Tesla S.

Complete sidenote: Apparently Tesla has partnered with Uber in Shanghai.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Reno is Booming: Elon Musk and the Gigafactory

Recently, Elon Musk disclosed that Tesla was moving forward with the Gigafactory in Reno. Their main factory in Fremont, CA is 3.5 hours away or a little more than 230 miles away.
Source: Forbes

I've written about the Davidson Academy before. Not too long ago, I was looking at condos within walking distance of the school, which is on the University of Nevada's Reno campus. It would be the major reason for most people to move to Reno, and it's a huge draw for parents of gifted children. Many of those parents are intelligent people themselves.

Now that the Gigafactory is moving there and creating 6,500 direct jobs and 16,000 indirect jobs.

Just like Austin is growing, Reno is growing - or will be shortly. For people with the capital, buying up the housing stock in Reno is a very good business move.

Reno is approximately 230,000 people right now. According to Enrico Moretti, people move where there are superstars. He used the example of Microsoft in Seattle drawing a large amount of industry. He also used the example of the economics department of Washington University in St. Louis. Both of those stories indicate that the impact of Tesla on Reno's future is more than just the 6,500 jobs that it will provide to workers.

Tony Hsieh is doing interesting things in Vegas right now. I hope that Elon Musk or someone similar does a comparable renovation of some of Reno. I would love for Reno to be a walkable, person-friendly place. It's not that hard to construct something like The Container Park, and it makes it a good place for families and for entertainment.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Downtown Project, The New Geography of Jobs, and Teenage App Developers

I really like what Tony Hsieh is doing in downtown Las Vegas, and it has been the source of some thought on my part. He's not a fantastic public speaker, but he has the big ideas that you need to drive change.

I just finished Enrico Moretti's The New Geography of Jobs, and there was a lot of thought-provoking data. Of course, I enjoyed that he wanted to extend more H1B visas. He also says that we need more engineers, which is absolutely true. We need more of the people that can get jobs.

Google and Apple have been reaching out to teenagers lately, and I think we're already seeing that shift.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

How to Sell on Etsy

Advice for Etsy Sellers

My friend ennaree has a brother who has an Etsy business. It made me think about small business advice, especially for sellers of handcrafted goods. It made me think of Ramit's case study with someone who successfully sold on Etsy.

  1. Keep your margins. When you are making goods by hand, you will be undercut by mass-produced items. You can buy a wool hat for much cheaper at Walmart than what Etsy sells them for.
  2. Make sure your fulfillment model scales. What works for one or two items won't work if, by chance, you make it big. Ensure that people will get your stuff in a timely fashion. Consider using Shyp.
  3. Focus on the customer. Check things out from the customer perspective. How easy is it to buy and use the item? How long will it last?  What are the use cases?
  4. Optimize for search engine results. I was astounded to find that most of the cheerleading ribbon shopping results are on Etsy. Make sure you show up when people look for what you are selling.
  5. Define your target market. Don't make it "everybody." That's how you lose everybody. You need to make it a niche product at first. You should use Ramit's Two-Qualifier Method:
Ramit Sethi
Source: Forbes

The Two-Qualifier Method takes you from one level — say, tutoring for high-school kids – and layers another qualifier on top of it — say, tutoring for private high school kids. Of course, you can take this a lot further
WHAT MOST PEOPLE DO: “I’m going to tutor math”
WHAT YOU’LL DO: Get more specific using the Two-Qualifier Method.
In essence it looks like this:
So here are some examples:
* Affluent working parents in the San Francisco Bay area who want (tutoring for their high school kids).
* Small-business companies in the financial services industry who need (copywriting for marketing materials).
* Bloggers with 1,000 to 5,000 subscribers who want to (develop information products).
If you are selling upper-crust ski goggles, you aren't selling to the average ski bum. You have to ensure that they are able and willing to pay. Instead, you are selling to the affluent people who go to the slopes over Christmas break or the weekends. Where do they buy their goggles? What do they need out of them? If upper-crust people need replacement bands because the elastic wears out, sell or include extra replacement bands. Find your target audience's pain points and alleviate them.