Angel Investing Learnings

In this post I’ll share some advice and learnings from a decade of angel investing to help others get started or improve their own process.

I’ve been investing in startups for about 10 years through Musha Ventures, after learning the ropes at Index Ventures. I’ve made ~70 investments (around 40 in Africa), and realized around twice my total invested capital (Distribution to Paid in Capital – DPI). Most of the companies in my portfolio (~55) continue to operate without a realized liquidity event.

I love meeting and learning from founders, and being exposed to different business models. When I support a company, I am able to learn from observing it grow or fail and build friendships with the founders beyond my small investment. I think that early stage investing has made me a better product person and operator, and I hope to continue to support entrepreneurs throughout my life.

Investing Frameworks

Ben Holmes, Index Ventures

I worked with Ben Holmes at Index Ventures, who led their investments in King, iZettle, and Just Eat. He showed me a simple framework, which is still the foundation of my investment evaluation process, detailed below. At least one dimension of Team, Technology or Traction should be an A+, and a big enough Market (now or in the future) should be a precursor to making the investment.

  • Market: Is the market big enough ($1Bn+) and can you see this company being a leading player (with 10%+ market share) in the next 3-5 years? If you think that the market now or in the future is too small, then don’t make the investment.
  • Technology : Is the product or technology differentiated and sticky within their market? How difficult is it to replicate?
  • Team: Is the founding team both individually exceptional and complement each other? How deep and long is their professional relationship?
  • Traction: Is the business growing and do they have positive unit economics? Do they have paying users? What does customer retention look like?

Brian Singerman, Founders Fund

I don’t know Brian Singerman personally but I really enjoyed this episode of “Invest Like the Best” with him. He’s invested in companies like Oscar, Affirm, Wish, and AirBnB. Here are a few of my takeaways from the conversation:

  • As a startup market, moats and execution are the only things that matter.
  • As a VC, seeing, picking and closing are the only things that matter.
  • You learn to invest in venture by actually investing, not by observing.

Investing Advice

This is a collection of advice when you are starting to invest, in no particular order:

  • Learn with small investments: Optimize for learning per dollar invested if you are just getting started, have limited capital and hope to build a portfolio. If you invest $1k with the same diligence process as if you were investing $100k, then you will learn by making less expensive mistakes early on.
  • Take it slow: Start early in your career but start slow, and invest more frequently as you improve your judgement – I made too many investments in my first year. It takes a long time to calibrate your gut because it can take 10-15 years to figure out if you are a good investor (but you’ll get some validating and invalidating data points along the way).
  • Asymmetric Advantage: Invest in areas where you have some asymmetric advantage. If you know a founder super well, or know a space really well and can invest in a related company (without conflict) these are sources of asymmetric advantage.
  • Time vs. Money: Invest money in companies that you would be willing to spend your time on personally, but may not be the right personal trade off for you. When you are earlier in your career you can think of time and money as interchangeable. If you don’t have the capital to invest, then try and join these companies and get some equity for your time.
  • Deep Relationships: Invest in great teams who’ve known each other a long time and even better worked together for a while – it reduces the risk of founder issues (65% of company breakups are for this reason).
  • Founders you like and respect: I invested in a few companies that I did not have the best rapport with personally, or had an unexplainable ‘gut’ reaction to avoid even it if looked good on paper. Most of these companies did not work out, but I have a small sample and so this still needs more data.
  • Company first, then terms: Terms are less important than believing in the company and the founders. Don’t make an investment because of a low valuation or tax incentives – these are all bonuses, and never a reason to make an investment. I made a number of mistakes here early on and regretted them.
  • Valuation: If you are going to negotiate on anything, negotiate on price although this is mostly supply/demand driven and you may not have leverage if you are a small investor. There is a common belief that valuation does not matter in venture capital, but if you are investing your own money then overpaying consistently will hurt your returns.
  • Get written answers: When I have follow up questions, I usually send them over email and look for an email response. This is an indication of how clearly they think, and communicate. It is also more efficient for me and I have a permanent record.
  • Cap table: Look for ‘clean’ cap tables (equity split) in early rounds. If the founding team has an unexpected equity split, or there are early inactive employees/ investors significant equity it can affect the company’s ability to raise money in later rounds and if founders are too diluted, then they may lose motivation.
  • Discipline: Founders who are structured and regular with investor communication are often also good operators. If they show discipline with investors, they are likely applying the same discipline to running their companies. I often ask for the last investor report to get a sense of their communication quality.
  • Metrics: Founders should be super on top of their key metrics, growth rates, revenue distribution, burn rate etc. This shows that they both track them carefully, and review them frequently.
  • Pace of iteration: At all stages look for pace of iteration and product development. Teams that ship more often and test more hypotheses are likely to have better products and build long term sustainable advantage.
  • Sleep on it: Even when I really like a company, I always sleep on the decision and never commit after a meeting. If I still feel good about it the next day, then I’ll message the founder to invest. Try not to get pressured, or react to FOMO and make a decision too quickly or without conviction.

Practical Tips

This is a collection of more practical/tactical things to do when you are investing:

  • Track your portfolio: If you only make a handful of investments, then think of it as money spent and a nice bonus if one of them is successful. If you have a portfolio, then keep a strict record of your investments and track their progress and returns (I use a simple Google Sheet). I track key dates like fundraising events and summarize the status of each investment about once a year.
  • Write Memos: Your memory is less reliable than paper record, and so I recommend writing short 1 page memos with the ‘why’ behind your investment. I’d start with the structure I outlined from Ben Holmes up above and expand it over time.
  • Customer References: For software as a service businesses in particular, do some customer reference calls. I always ask the following three questions: What was in like before the product? What is it like after the product? What would happen if took the product away? If they get very upset at the last question happening, that is a very good signal.
  • Post Mortems: If companies fail, write a few bullet points down about why the company failed (I just add them to my original memo), and see if you identified the risk when you made investment. Learn from this, and don’t repeat mistakes.
  • Intro Email: I’ve just started writing an ‘intro’ email to founders which founders seem to appreciate. It allows you to clearly express how you can help, how you operate as an investor, and share some of your expectations as well.

I’ll continue to add to this list as I learn more, and please send me any thoughts or feedback!

Making a YouTube Video

I made a YouTube video, with the goal of understanding what it takes to create something with reasonable production quality, completely on my own. This is a short summary of my process and learnings for others who may want to try something similar.

My subgoal was to generate empathy with YouTube content creators and the best way I know how to do this is to actually go through it. I capped the time investment at one full day, including setting up and learning all the hardware and software.

Before you start

  1. Get a good quality camera and microphone. I used the Canon M50 creator kit with the Rode Mic (see below) as it came highly recommended in a number of YouTube channels and blogs. I just ended up using my Apple AirPod Pros, because it created a simpler workflow and I wanted to save time (so the audio quality was not the best). If I was to do this more frequently, I would just buy a separate USB mic like the Blue Yeti Nano.
  1. Familiarize yourself with the software. I used Final Cut Pro (90 day free trial) for editing, Camera Live to stream my camera to my computer and OBS Studio for recording my screen which are both open source.
  2. Decide what story you want to tell. This is the hardest parts of any piece of media creation, and the main thing that matters.
  3. Write up a rough script. Each take took me way too many times to get right, and so I just memorized what to say (like an actor) and it went more smoothly from that point.
  4. Write up a shot list. I did mine in this spreadsheet, although I would improve it in the future to be something that I could easily share with an editor. Naming the shots lets you more easily edit the footage in post production.
  5. Run through your entire workflow with a short clip. For example I did not realize that OBS was compressing my files into MKV (and at a low quality), which did not play nice with Final Cut Pro and it would have sucked to lose all my footage and start again.

Pre Filming

Here are all the things you should do before filming, so that the filming process goes as smoothly as possible.

  • Story: I decided to do an instructional video for using a DLSR Camera for Zoom and other video calls. I had been looking for an option like this and found many of the videos incomplete.
  • Script: I wrote a script in a Google Doc for what I planned to say. This was really helpful to read from when filming so I made sure to say everything I wanted to and did not lose my place.
  • Shot List: I wrote up the following shot list in Google Sheets and in the future, I’ll add in some editing notes in post. This would allow someone who is editing my video to add any captions, effects or transitions much more easily.
  • Audio set up: I tested a few different mics, including the Rode Mic that came with my creator kit, the MacBook Pro Mic, and the AirPod Pro mics. The Rode Mic definitely sounded the best, but was not a USB mic and made my workflow a bit harder as I could not record the audio and video directly using OBS on my Mac. I decided to go with the AirPod Pros, but would buy a USB mic in the future. I tested the levels to make sure that the audio was good to go.
  • Video set up: I tested the video, the encoding (RAW is best but harder to work with) and the lighting. I only used light from a large window and it worked pretty well.
  • Scene: I used the living room of my house and made an effort to clean up the background of clutter. This kind of thing does make a difference to the overall feeling of quality to your video.
  • Full workflow: Make sure you run through the entire workflow with a short clip so you don’t have to re-do everything because of a mistake. I was having an issue where short clips had no audio due to some encoding issue and it was a real pain to fix in post.

Filming

Here are a few things that I learned during filming, and things I’d suggest watching out for when you are making your own video.

  • Long takes: I really struggled to get long takes completed. I would use filler words, or look away and it was frustrating. In the end I shot much shorter takes or just tolerated some worse takes as I ran out of time.
  • Hand waving: I used my hands too much and it made me look a bit manic. I would try a shot that included my torso in the future so this looked more natural (vs. hands popping up on the screen) or just chilling out the hands a bit.
  • Looking into the lens: I was not looking at the camera lens, but at the little preview screen of myself instead. In the future, I’ll stop using that preview screen and make an effort to look at the lens. This makes the viewer feel like you are making eye contact with them, and is more engaging.
  • Smiling: I needed to smile more, as it would make me seem more friendly and likable on video.

Editing

I edited the video myself to learn the tools and see what I could do in a few hours. I also tried spending $25 on Fiverr and $50 on UpWork to hire a freelancer to do the video editing for me and to make sure that I understood their platforms. The self edited version is clearly the worst one of the three below.

Self Edit

I used Final Cut Pro, which was pretty intuitive and added some captions, and intro screen, short music clip, some transitions and corrected audio levels. It was fun to learn how to use the software!

Spending $25 on Fiverr

I hired an editor for $25 total on Fiverr. This was much better than my effort. The pro added soft background music throughout, zoomed in and zoomed out shots, and improved color grading and audio levels significantly.

Spending $50 on UpWork

I hired another pro for $50 on UpWork. This edit was by far the best, and I would spend at this price point again in the future.

The editor did good color grading, had clean transitions, added blurred the backgrounds for my screen recordings, added soft background music, integrated some images, text on screen and added a nice intro and outro sequence that made it feel more professional.

Youtube

I set up a creator account on YouTube and watched some of the videos from the Creator Academy. I would watch more videos if I got more serious, particularly to learn how to get more traffic.

I uploaded the video, added a description and some tags and also some Amazon Affiliate links to the YouTube description to learn that part of the process. No one has bought any of my recommendations just yet and I’ve only had about 120 views after about two weeks.

Conclusion

Overall this was a fun project, and I may make some more videos in the future. It would probably take me half the time to film and prepare the audio and video files and the shot lists.

I would definitely pay someone on UpWork or Fiverr to do the editing for me in the future as they would 1) do a better job than me and 2) it seems worth the $25-50 cost for the time saving.

I would also get a better microphone.

A Lifelong MBA

I think that the business schools should consider an annual subscription to facilitate lifelong learning as a replacement or complement to the 2 year MBA program. This would include contextual webinars / discussions with experts, and bringing small groups of alumni together around shared challenges over longer periods of time.

A month after my 26th birthday, I enrolled at Harvard Business School (HBS) for their two year MBA program. I had worked in consulting for two years and at Google for two years – I was still quite early in my career. I wrote a somewhat ranty post around six years ago about the benefits and branding of an MBA here and I still think those benefits hold true today.

How I learn now

In the last few years I’ve been reading a lot more (Books in 2019) and realize how much you can learn from subject matter experts and from the stories of successful people and their journeys (even if Nassim Taleb would argue that this is mostly just the product of randomness).

It’s also extremely helpful to read books and have focused conversations around a problem that is top of mind – e.g. if you are negotiating a deal or a job offer, then read Never Split the Difference and apply what you learn immediately.

I’ve also participated in some forum style discussions with a group of friends (all HBS alums) led by Beri Meric, modeled after his experience at YPO Forums, and additionally participated in a few conversations with small groups of technology executives through Enrich.

How I learned at HBS

The case study method of learning at HBS is a crash course in many diverse aspects of business. You learn from the story in the case (and often interact directly with the protagonist in the class) as well as from your fellow students and professor and take away a few learnings.

A lot of what we learned was the ability to recall examples and stories without having lived them ourselves. This can allow you to ‘sound smart’ and wise beyond your experience which is useful in a variety of scenarios but particularly in careers like management consulting.

When I was studying for my MBA, I did not appreciate or engage as much as I probably should have in the actual content, or listen to enough of the amazing speakers we had on campus. I was more focused on the lifestyle and friendships, but looking back I still feel like I made the right trade off.

HBS now has an estimated annual cost of $112k and the tuition alone costs $73k per year. If you travel a fair bit, which many students do it can cost even more. With a two year gap in earnings (assuming ~$100k average gross salary per year) a two year MBA can end up costing students ~$400k+ AFTER tax.

This rising relative cost will put downward pressure on MBA applications and create adverse selection bias for folks who are successful early in their career. I think it’s time to reflect and make changes to the education model.

The potential of a lifelong MBA

When I reflected more about how I learn now, and how I learned in school, I came to the realization that I would likely get value from paying a premium annual subscription fee (e.g. a few $k a year) for a lifelong education from HBS, administered completely digitally.

The school could bring together alumni from across classes around specific, focused topics (e.g. how to move to distributed work) which would allow people to learn from each other about a subject that is top of mind. They could also curate small groups (who meet regularly over a long period of time) who are in similar positions across industries and help these groups form strong long term bonds. This would allow alumni to learn continually, build stronger ties within the HBS community, and generate lifelong income for HBS beyond donations.

In the future, I could envision a version of this ‘product’ that replaces the 2 year MBA program for many students, with additional in person retreats to complement the digital program.

This would also be something that many employers could sponsor, as many have budgets for continuing education. I would worry that an HBS only community might be too limiting, but the alumni groups are big enough and and what people do is broad enough that it might be totally fine. The curation of the groups is also not trivial, and would require some technology and people with good judgment.

The opportunity to create structured learning where alumni facing similar problems regardless of experience are able to engage more deeply in topics when they become important, urgent and contextual would be very valuable.

Mechanical Watches

I really like mechanical wrist watches. They have been every day tools since the 1800s and are a mix of precise craftsmanship, complex engineering and aesthetic beauty (form and function). They can often be high quality products that last a lifetime, and serve as a both a memory of the past and as a reminder that time is my only irrevocable resource and I should use it well.

This is a nerdy, niche post. I’ll cover why I think mechanical watches are interesting to me, summarize how they work, and list out a few complications and why most are useless 🙂


Why are they interesting?

As humans, we’ve been telling the time since before recorded history. The sundial was invented before we had records, and common in both Egypt and China by 3500 BC. The first watch was made in Germany in the 1505 as a pocket watch. Wrist watches have been around since 1868, and the first wrist watch was made by legendary watchmaking company, Patek Philippe for a Hungarian Countess. Wrist watches were almost exclusively worn by women and men would carry pocket watches until World War 1 when wrist watches took off for men given their usefulness as a tool for soldiers. They grew in popularity for men over women from this point onwards. High quality, accurate watches now exist in almost every price point from a few dollars to $18m for Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona.

The Holy Trinity of Swiss watchmaking are Audemars Piguet, Vacheron Constantin, and Patek Philippe because of their very long history (100+ years old) and consistent quality of luxury watchmaking. Rolex is arguably the most successful brand in the watch industry but started as a tool watch, made of steel vs. precious metals and always focused on reliability and durability versus complicated movements or ornate finishings.

I first became interested in watches as a young child. Both my parents owned and wore good watches (Omegas) and my favorite gifts from their travels were plastic Swatch’s with dial protectors. One of my prized possessions when I was 10 was my Casio G-Shock, and I wore my first proper watch (a blue Omega Seamaster in 2003) every day for over 10 years.

Watches are first and foremost tools. They can be used ever single day, have a (mostly) timeless design, and high quality timepieces can last a lifetime. Quality mechanical watches are fairly accurate (+/- 2 seconds a day), and require deep knowledge and skill to build and maintain. I also like that they can last across generations and carry the stories with them – one of my favorite watches is my dad’s because it reminds me of him every time I wear it.

I know that mechanical watches are an outdated technology and both quartz and atomic clocks are a step function more accurate. Quartz watches (battery powered) are accurate to +/- a few seconds a month and atomic clocks (your smartphone clock) are almost perfectly accurate. However, neither have the romanticism or require the craftsmanship of a mechanical watch, nor will either help us when the robots take over the world.


How do they work?

Mechanical watches are complex little machines that have to be precisely engineered, assembled and maintained to work properly. Here are the major components and how they fit together:

  1. Crown: The crown typically has three states, a locked state, a winding state and a time setting state for the most simple watches. In the winding state the crown connects to a set of gears to wine up the main spring.
  2. Mainspring: The mainspring, is the energy store, which can by wound up manually or by a self winding or automatic movement.
  3. Automatic movements: An automatic movement has a weighted rotor which usually exists in addition to a manual winding. Most modern rotors can wind the mainspring in either direction.
  4. Balance Wheel: The balance wheel and hairspring handles the transfer of energy from the mainspring in a consistent manner. This swings back and fourth and gives a watch that ‘ticking’ sound. It’s one of the most sensitive parts of a watch and typically is both shock absorbent and and anti magnetic.
  5. Escapement: The escapement meters out the energy from the mainspring to the wheel train into equal regular parts to move them a precise amount.
  6. Wheel trains: The wheel trains are set of gears layered on top of each other, which move at typically 6 beats per second which is why second hand looks ‘sweeping’ on many mechanical watches. There is typically one for minutes, one for hours and each of these gears has a watch face hand on it.
  7. Jewels: Jewels are used for lubrication and they reduce friction by acting as bearings (not because they are precious). Jewels are very smooth and hard and make mechanical watches last long time.
A good overview of how a watch works

What are complications?

Complications are additional functions added to mechanical watches to improve their usefulness. Here is a list of the most common comlpications and why I find them useful or useless.

  • Date: The date of the month, which is pretty useful but is getting less so as we work more digitally.
  • Day: The day of the week, not really useful until everyone started working from home.
  • GMT: The ability to add in a second time zone, typically with another hand. In the photo above the time almost 6pm in the second time zone. This the most useful complication in my opinion especially for people who travel across time zones.
  • Moon phase: This displays a the different kinds of moons – new, quarter, half and full moon. It’s a pretty romantic complication, and one I like (although have never owned a watch with a moon phase).
  • Power reserve: This is an indicator to tell the user how much ‘charge’ remains in the main spring, and seems like a pretty useful indicator for a manual wind or automatic watch, although I’ve never had a watch with a power reserve indicator.
  • Chronograph: A chronograph is basically a stop watch with seconds, minutes and hours typically. It’s really not that useful as you don’t often need a timer and when you do a phone is a much better device. I have a chronograph and almost never use it.
  • Perpetual calendar: A perpetual calendar watch stores the day, month, and year and accounts for leap years as well. It’s a rare complication typically in expensive watches. I don’t think it’s particularly useful unless you are wearing the perpetual calendar watch regularly enough that it stays wound.
  • Tourbilon: Tourbilons were designed to improve the accuracy of wall mounted clocks by eliminating the errors caused by gravity. They do not significantly improve the accuracy of modern wrist watches, and are very expensive and difficult to produce. I don’t really see the point of ever buying a watch with this complication.
  • Minute repeater: Minute repeaters were found in pocket watches in the 1800s. This is a chime (pattern of sound) when specific conditions are met, usually on demand. It is very difficult to make, and uses hammers and gongs with the case. Much like tourbilons, I don’t see the point of ever buying a watch with this complication.

My favorite complication is the GMT, and I have the second time set to Kenya which reminds me of home and I often glance at the second time and think about what my parents might be up to. I like the idea and the romance of a Moon Phase, but until I actually own a watch which has one, it’s hard for me to tell if it lives up to the idea in my head.

Use your Fancy Camera on Zoom

tl;dr: A better camera, with front facing lighting will make you look much better. A fancy camera is great, but a pain to set up. The best option for most people is to attach an HD camera to your monitor, like the ones recommended by Wirecutter.


This post will summarize how to set up your fancy DSLR or Mirrorless camera with Zoom, and it will work for most video calling or web conferencing tools. It will make you look clearer and better simulate being in person, as we all transition to working from home.

I’d also suggest getting a decent audio set up. The best option for most people is a wired USB headsets with a mic that is a consistent distance from your mouth.

Please note, this guide only covers Macs and Canon cameras. It is meant to be a companion to my Youtube video below.

Fancy camera on Zoom guide

A number of other guides recommended using the Camlink and a HDMI cable, but these were sold out, and required a ‘clean’ HDMI out feed so it’s a little more fussy from a set up perspective but easier once you have it running.

Results

Here is a screenshot of my Macbook Pro Zoom feed, the feed from the built in Camera on my LG 5K monitor, and from the Canon M50 (in that order). I took these screenshots directly from Zoom, and I hope you can see the difference between the three 🙂

Hardware

The most important thing to get right is the video and audio quality when setting up your home video conferencing kit. Quality video and audio can make interacting virtually feel more natural, and may be worth the investment if you spend lots of time on video calls and plan to work in a distributed fashion for an extended period of time.

This entire set up costs under $1,000, which is still expensive but I think worth it if you’re working from home all the time.

  1. Canon EOS M50 ($400-600): This was highly recommended by a number of blogs and Youtube channels that I follow. It seems to have very good price to value ratio and costs around $450 for the camera and the lens. I bought the ‘creator kit’ from Amazon (linked above) which was $550, and includes a Rode mic as well.
  2. Dummy Battery ($25): The dummy battery just makes it more convenient for you so you don’t have to change the battery often – each battery only gives you about 2-3 hours of video, so it’s pretty essential.
  3. USB micro to USB C cable ($10): This is how you connect your camera to your computer. You could use a standard micro USB to USB cable and a USB to USB C. Try and get a fast USB 3.0 cable as you’ll get some lag otherwise.
  4. Amazon Basic Tripod ($15) : This is a very basic tripod but does the job keeping my camera well positioned behind my monitor.
  5. [Upgrade] Sigma 16mm f/1.4 ($400): I upgraded the stock lens a Sigma 16mm f/1.4 lens which I recommend. It is a prime lens (without zoom) with a large aperture (better in low light) and a low focal length (helps blur the background). I really like this lens, and it takes really nice portrait photos as well. If you use it outside though you’ll need to get ND filters (sunglasses for your lens) as otherwise too much light gets in and your photos are overexposed.

Software

NOTE: Canon just released (May 27, 2020) a beta webcam utility that makes this whole process much easier from a software side. Here is their video to set it up – it saves on all the steps below but the software is still in beta.

The following steps below still work, but the webcam utility is easier!

You need three pieces of software to make this work and they are all open source or free:

  1. Camera Live – Camera Live is an open source tool to create a live video feed from your Camera. Download the latest Alpha (13) if you are on the most recent version of Mac OS Catalina (10.15.4 at the time of writing).
  2. Camtwist: Camtwist allows you to broadcast the live video feed from Camera Live to other tools, like Zoom via a Syphon server.
  3. Zoom: Download the latest version of Zoom. They now allow you to use virtual cameras agin so you should not have any issues.

Office Set Up

I set up the camera above my laptop screen, and don’t use my large screen while on Zoom with the fancy camera. I position the camera above the laptop screen because it keeps the camera at eye level (how a real person would look at me), and allows me the see the person I’m speaking with while making eye contact with the lens.


I hope you enjoy using your new video conferencing set up!

Trekking and Ski Gear

When I buy equipment, I research it intensely and I am sharing my picks below in case they are useful for you. I’ve put these gear picks to the test by skiing (12 resorts) and trekking (places like Kilimanjaro, Annapurna Circuit) in harsh conditions over the last 5 years, with some pictures below.

If you buy proper, high quality gear, it is re-useable for both trekking and skiing and will last a really long time. I don’t have any perspective on style (as you can see from my pictures), and this post is primarily about function and some of the products that I like.

Summary

Here are the main takeaways in case you don’t care for the details:

  1. Dress in layers – you’ll typically need a base, mid and outer layer for cold weather.
  2. Your first layer should be merino wool, if possible, as it’s functional in hot and cold weather and you can wear it for a long time without it getting smelly.
  3. Your outer layers should be high quality Gore-Tex shells, particularly for your jacket. Make sure your jacket has a hood.
  4. Get a neck buff. It’s the most versatile thing that I have, and a lifesaver.

Layers

When you buy your gear, it’s best to buy in layers vs integrated (insulated) items. It’s definitely more expensive, but quality gear lasts a long time, is more versatile in seasons, and really makes a difference to your comfort level in harsh (freezing, windy) conditions on the mountains.

  1. Base Layer: Get good quality merino wool base layers for your tops (1 short, 1-2 long sleeve) and bottoms (1-2 underwear, 1-2 tights), and socks (2-3 pairs). This will last a long trekking trip of up to a week, and a week long ski trip, minus the underwear. For value, I like Smartwool, but my preferred merino wool baselayers are from Mons Royale, which are good quality and slightly more thoughtfully designed.
  2. Mid Layer: You really just need one mid layer jacket. I LOVE my Patagonia Nano Air with a hood. I’ve bought one of these for everyone in my family. I also recently read the founder of Patagonia’s book “Let my people go surfing” and it’s hard not to be inspired by his authenticity.
  3. Outer Layer: Get a good Gore-Tex shell jacket (not insulated), and this is more important than trousers. I got mine from Arc’teryx but their stuff is pretty pricey. I got my trousers from Arc’teryx too, as they have some nice synergies (jacket clips to pants) but you can easily get more affordable trousers if you’re budget constrained.

Merino Wool

Merino wool is the best! It’s so much better than synthetics for long trekking trips and ski trips. It keeps you cool when it’s hot and warm when it’s cold, still performs well when it’s wet and you can wear it for 2-3 days without it getting super smelly. It’s more expensive, and a little harder to take care of as you need to wash it in cold water and hang it up to dry. The performance and comfort improvements are well worth the trade off. Here is a good summary of the pros and cons if you want more info.

Outer Layer

I’m not a Gore-Tex expert (good article here) but have owned a few jackets now, and think they are all pretty fantastic. The jacket I have from Arc’teryx is made from the Gore-Tex Pro material which has 3-layers of material to make it even more waterproof and durable. I really like the Patagonia shells too, and they come in at a slightly lower price point than Arc’teryx. Make sure your jacket has a hood (so useful for keeping warm and dry) and make sure that the hood is big enough to fit over your ski helmet.

Neck Buffs

A good neck buff is so useful – it protects your face from wind on the chairlift or if there is ice smacking your face and keeps your neck warm. It’s a must have on trekking and ski trips. Here is the neck buff I have, which is merino wool from Mons Royale (around $30) and it’s great.


A lot of this gear is expensive, and if you buy it all it can add up. You can almost always get everything on sale; I bought almost everything at least 30% off retail. If you look after the equipment, it can last a really long time. My shells are seven years old and still in great working condition. On a cost per wear basis a good quality product always ends up being worth it versus. a lower quality product. Also when you are at the top of a mountain, freezing your tushie off a little less, you’ll thank me.

A Virtual Funeral

My great uncle, Taher, passed away this weekend at the age of 98 years old in my childhood home in Mombasa. He was more like a grandfather to me, as I grew up in the same house as him and saw him every day and my paternal grandfather died many years before I was born. He lived a long and loving life, I will miss him and always think of him when I have soft serve ice cream (his favorite).

Current conditions made it impossible to travel to Mombasa but we were able to have a virtual service for him (over Zoom) a few days after he died. Around 100 people attended from many countries around the world to celebrate his life and one of our family members even organized a priest to come and officiate.

In many ways the service was more inclusive and better than an in person ceremony. We were able to welcome people who would not have been able to attend – because of the distance, cost, time, or their ability to travel (age, health or dependents). Both of his surviving sisters in their 90s were able to brave the technological challenges to say a few words in his honor and we were able to share some photos and memories by sharing our screens and taking turns to speak.

I missed some of the tactile elements of being together (like giving folks a hug), and the longer in person time after the service. However, the positives outweighed the negatives given how quickly it all happened, and how difficult this kind of situation is for people to plan for.

Zoom Service

In a time where most of the focus of the web is how we can adapt to working in a distributed way, it’s also wonderful to see us use these tools for bringing our communities together for a shared purpose as well.

Seeking Leverage

Leverage allows us to amplify the impact of our creations and decisions. If we apply leverage to these things we can create more value for the amount of time invested. Leverage is not easy to attain, and the different forms of leverage either don’t scale easily or require specialist skills and the ability to distribute creations effectively. I’ll summarize the inspiration behind this post, and then go into the different types of leverage below.

Inspiration

I listened to Naval’s Podcast Series a few months ago – I don’t love the title of the series, but I agree with many of his principles. Here is a link to a set of Tweets from him which are a little faster to digest, which catalyzed the podcast.

Here are a few of my favorites from the Tweets:

  1. Seek wealth, not money or status. Wealth is having assets that earn while you sleep. Money is how we transfer time and wealth. Status is your place in the social hierarchy.
  2. Pick business partners with high intelligence, energy, and, above all, integrity. Don’t partner with cynics and pessimists. Their beliefs are self-fulfilling.
  3. Learn to sell. Learn to build. If you can do both, you will be unstoppable. (Aadil Note: The two things we were never taught at business school).
  4. Leverage is a force multiplier for your judgement. Fortunes require leverage. Business leverage comes from capital, people, and products with no marginal cost of replication (code and media).

Gated Leverage

Gated leverage requires an outside party to agree to give you leverage and does not scale without additional marginal cost – for example, raising money from an investor or recruiting a new person to your team still takes incremental time and effort.

People

If you have people working for you who are able to execute your ideas you can (in theory) make more decisions for greater output versus doing it all yourself. This is not costless leverage as recruiting is expensive, developing trust and high performing relationships is difficult, and alignment between people as you scale is challenging. People can be amazing to bring in new skills, different ideas and make a product or organization better but they are not my favorite source of pure leverage.

Capital

Let’s assume you spend 100 hours developing a well reasoned theory to pick an investment (e.g. buying Amazon stock in 2011). If you have $100 of your own capital to invest and it returns 10x, you make $1,000. If you have $1,000,000 to invest because you raised money from others (let’s assume you get 20% of the upside), you would make $2,000,000 in the same scenario. The amount of time you spent crafting the thesis remains constant but the returns are much larger if you have more capital. This is not costless, because you have to convince other people to part with their capital and trust you with it unless you are already wealthy.

Scaleable Leverage

Scaleable leverage has zero marginal cost of replication, and does not require someone else to agree to it. This is the best kind of leverage as it can create value even without ‘active’ involvement from you. Code and Media are both great forms of leverage but distribution and discovery of your code and media is still a requirement for success.

Software

A line of code can be deployed and distributed at scale with very little marginal additional cost. Servers are constantly available, and users can interact with your technology whether or not you’re actively working on it. Imagine, if like a doctors office, Google Search was only available from 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday.

Media

Books, Blog Posts, Podcasts, Youtube videos are all good ways of getting your ideas across at scale. The cost of creating the content is fixed but the marginal cost of a user downloading another podcast episode or viewing another blog post is essentially zero.


Scaleable leverage is both responsible for a lot of wealth creation for modern content creators and technology company builders, with very little invested capital for the relative impact. I think that this kind of leverage will grow in popularity and impact, whereas many companies of the past were built with Gated Leverage.

I would like to spend more of my career seeking scaleable leverage. Working in technology and investing in startups (for equity) will hopefully allow more passive wealth creation than purely ‘renting’ out my time.

Raspberry Pi Setup

A Raspberry Pi is a super cheap ($35-60) computer. I spent a few hours setting up a Raspberry Pi, connecting it to my home wifi, enabling remote access and setting up WordPress.

My goal was to get a home network set up and give myself a platform to try things like hosting a WordPress locally, play with mini home automation projects (e.g. change the light outside my door when I’m in a meeting), or a long horizon timelapse of each day outside our window with a cheap camera.

What do you need?

I spent around $100 to get all these components (with Amazon links):

  1. Raspberry Pi 4 (4GB Ram)
  2. Micro SD Card (32GB)
  3. USB C SD Card Reader (for Macbook Pro)
  4. USB C Charger (for Raspberry Pi)

What can you do with a Raspberry Pi?

I read a bunch of articles, but here are my a few that I recommend:

  1. A couple on Hacker News with my favorite being the good samaritan who shared the live bus schedule with travelers
  2. Hardware add ons and corresponding use cases
  3. A good write up of all the home automation software options
  4. Home automation ideas here and here
  5. Set up a WordPress site

How do you set it up?

I pretty much followed this guide, which was pretty good, and it’s designed for folks who want to use their Raspberry Pi without a screen, as a stand alone device.

The main steps are:

  1. Install the Raspbian operating system on your SD Card (don’t bother with the Etcher step, you don’t need that)
  2. Set up your Raspberry Pi to connect automatically to your home WiFi (SD card slot is on the other side)
  3. SSH into your Raspberry Pi and change your login credentials
  4. Download Real VNC and set up and update the operating system
  5. Install and set up Docker to allow containerization of applications
  6. Install a web app (I installed WordPress afterwards)

A couple of other useful videos are:

  1. Raspberry Pi getting started beginners guide from Crosstalk solutions, but it assumes you have a screen plugged in.
  2. Useful video guide for explaining Docker and containers but it’s a little more technical and in depth.

How To SET up WordPRess?

I followed this guide which let me set up via command line (not using Docker). This was pretty straightforward except when installing MariaDB which needed s different command to install (updated below):

sudo apt install default-mysql-server php-mysql -y
Success!

I’m looking forward to playing around with this some more, and potentially investing in some light home automation in the future.

Product Roadmaps

Over the last few months, I’ve been thinking about how to design a lightweight framework for product development that fits in with different ‘product cultures’ and scales from a few teams of a few people to up to 50 people.

My current ‘best guess’ of this is a modified version of the Now/Next/Later framework that Noah Weiss nicely laid out here. For each product line I’d recommend a separate roadmap of this otherwise it gets pretty unwieldy. You can always roll up specific projects into a higher level company level view, if needed.


Principles

Here are some principles that I suggest for your roadmap:

  1. The product roadmap needs to be publicly visible and easily accessible to folks in the whole organization.
  2. It needs to be easy for folks outside the immediate executing team to add ideas or requests to the ‘New’ section for triaging.
  3. Ideas should be tracked from ideation to completion without duplication of work to update projects by lots of unconnected tools.
  4. The tool you choose is not important, as long as everyone uses it. I’ve enjoyed using Asana in the past (although they don’t integrate super well with other services).

NEW/NOW/NEXT/LATER

New (Inbox) : This is where all new items start to be prioritized. Items could be anything from large feature ideas, bugs or feature modifications. There should be a clear owner for prioritizing these items, usually the product lead, or on call engineer depending on the type of issue. Large projects should be broken up into milestones and prioritized. Try and keep this section at ‘Inbox Zero’.

Now (In Development) : This is what the team is actively working on right now, in order of priority. These tasks should be assigned to individuals on the team and usually correspond the the current sprint. Tasks in ‘Now’ are granular and well defined and have a clearly scoped deliverable and timeline. If you want more granular ordering or filtering in this list, I suggest tagging tasks by priority (e.g. P1, P2, P3).

Next (On Deck): These are the tasks/features that the team will work on in the next 1-2 development sprints. Tasks in this section should be in rough order of priority and have some definition around them, but may be broken up into more specific tasks when they move into the ‘Now’ bucket.

Later (Icebox): These are items that are unprioritized, but you know you want to get to them at some point. They could be bugs, loosely defined features, or feature modifications which should be tagged for clarity. The order or specificity around these is less important (especially for features) as you will prioritize and add more definition when the time comes.

Not Doing (Pit of Despair) : This bucket of tasks is usually hidden but is a list of ideas that you have explicitly decided that you are not doing. I suggest adding in a comment into the task to articulate the reason why you are not doing it, before moving it to this ‘Not Doing’ bucket.

In addition to the execution priority, it’s also useful to include some way to show the relative importance of tasks, so you can clearly see what tasks in the sprint can not drop. I suggest a Priority and Project Size tag like I’ve shown below.

This is an example of what a product roadmap could look in Asana:


In an ideal world, the tool is easily used and accessible by everyone in the organization and tightly integrates with other product development tools you use – e.g. Figma, Github, Google docs. Asana does not do a great job here and it’s hard to get information out of Asana if they whole company does not use it (which probably improves their retention, but makes it a worse tool overall).


Central Teams

These principles don’t just apply to user facing product development teams but would be also useful for ‘central teams’ like data/analytics or platform teams who are working cross functionally with folks across the organization. These teams often have ‘requestors’ of their time and expertise. It allows for better visibility into work and timelines, and also provides a structured system to ask for help or request reprioritization of work which hopefully leads to better visibility and trust between ‘central’ teams and ‘product’ teams.


Every company is different and each team may have different norms, but having a set of common principles, common tools and a shared language can improve visibility and reduce the switching costs for managers who oversee lots of projects and individual contributors moving between teams.