Categories
Blockchain

Failed food deliveries – a technology fix

Today, a Caviar courier managed to not delivery my order. This is not the first time a courier fails to deliver my food, although it showed as confirmed in the app. I live on a little hilltop building, with an alley way entrance between two small lion statues. I’m aware it’s hard to find and I always add instructions on how to get to my apartment. It usually works, but sometimes I get to starve for another 30+ minutes until we figure out other alternatives to the meal we’d been waiting for.

In this day and age, with contactless deliveries, which are great, it’s hard for couriers to know that they have delivered to the right person. So we need a solution to enable them to verify the order destination without me being there.

Sounds like a job for zero-knowledge proofs, if you’re a crypto-geek, like me. Or it’s just a simple async identity verification problem.

There’s a problem with addresses. Your GPS might say you’re at one address, but you’re actually at another building. Some buildings have the numbers well-hidden, others don’t have any numbers altogether, so couriers have to guess.

Being in love with technology, and being an advisor for Tailpath, I propose this simple solution:

  • As a customer, I want to give the courier enough information for them to be able to verify my identity, without being face to face with them, but not have to print / show identifiers each time. I also don’t want to reveal my personal information at the door.
  • As a courier, I want an easy way to verify if I’m dropping off the order in the right location. But I don’t always know if that’s the right address. I can’t ask the customer due to COVID or because they are not home, so I need to rely on signage
  • As an app builder (i.e. Caviar, Uber Eats), I would like to have a reliable way for couriers and customers to make the transaction without physically meeting.
  • Customers could have their address on a QR code on their door, for couriers to scan with their Tailpath app, or a white-label version of it within Caviar or Uber Eats or similar. You’d only need to put the code up once, and reuse over and over again
  • If the address matches with the address given in the app, the delivery is confirmed and the courier knows they dropped off the order correctly, and the customer is notified. The courier can also take a photo of the delivery at the correct door, for proof.
  • If the address doesn’t match, the courier can call the customer for further instructions.

This way, the courier proves they delivered in the right place, and the customer has no way of arguing that there was a mis-delivery if the courier scanned the code at their door and left a photo proof of the delivery.

I hope these apps get better, so less people have to go through the hassle of not having their food delivered correctly.

Photo by ivan Torres on Unsplash

Categories
Venture Capital

Top US universities are VC institutional partners

I tried sharing this story directly on LinkedIn, but it didn’t work, so I’m posting it here.

If you didn’t graduate from a top 5 school and wonder why top VCs are primarily funding certain types grads, then here’s a story for you.

Elena, who recently launched a really cool resume and career coaching service called Inner Stories, is reading a book called “Alpha Girls“, about women in the VC world from back in the 80s-90s. One of the things she shared with me is that Accel, named in the book, had Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology & Princeton University as institutional investors.

Think about it. That way, they are 2x incentivized to fund their graduates. Looking at funding patterns, it’s now starting to make sense how the system works over here. Here’s an extra article outlining how the university endowment funds ended up boycotting Accel’s VC fund fees in 2001, and other interesting tidbits of VC history.

So the money you pay for that Harvard tuition might end up on your cap table at seed or Series A, if you graduate and start a company. Not a bad deal for students. Not great for diversity, though, and opening up the funding circle.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Categories
Startups

Understading AI as a Marketer

Recently, I accepted the invite to be on the MorphL “Get your AI On” podcast, where we talked about AI and marketing. Ciprian and I walked away understanding that this process to build AI is very similar to how we think about marketing campaigns. And we got excited, his team wrote an article. But before that, here’s the comparison that got us here:

Business problem -> Data -> Models -> Measurement -> Active learning/Tuning, rinse, repeat; 

If you think about it this way, as a marketer, then it’s not as complicated as it may seem at first glance. Sure, there’s matrix multiplications, there’s big data, algorithms, frameworks, but to know enough to be dangerous, you just need to understand the principles. That point above, plus the amazing list of insight are in the article that I linked below.

Check out MorphL’s full article on how marketers and AI can become better friends.

Photo by Campaign Creators on Unsplash

Categories
Life

Thinking big and doing the work

It’s funny that I have to write an article about this, but I recently talked with someone I trust and respect a lot about this topic. He’s been around much longer than I have and has worked with Steve Jobs directly at some point in his life. He’s also consulted with a ton of companies in the Bay Area.

He said that it’s rare to find people that think big and do the work required to implement their ideas. Most people do either one or the other well, and there’s people that don’t do either.

I used to be an ideas only person, well, frankly, because I was lazy. I though I was special just because I existed, so my ideas were great off the bat, so I should have to do any work, let alone hard work to get stuff done. But as I met more and more cool, interesting and successful smart people, I noticed something about them. They all did the hard, grueling work. They stayed up all night to perfect their pitch, the campaign, the proposal, the deck. They didn’t say “it’s good enough”, they pushed for great.

Of course, my lazy nature tried to fight back, but by pushing myself, I saw that if I put in the extra hour, or the extra iteration, I got better and better results. It got me more budgets, raises, promotions, an MBA degree, experience working in competitive markets like London or San Francisco. But even now it’s still hard to do the work, unless I remember why I’m doing it. If it’s meaningful, I’ll put in the hours and deliver my best self.

Something to think about on a Friday evening, as you’re going into the weekend.

Photo by Daniel Chekalov on Unsplash

Categories
Venture Capital

My investment thesis

I realized I joined Republic in early 2018, and I have used that time to invest in a few of companies. This was just one of the ways I managed to beat the accredited investor limitation in the US, which keeps less wealthy people from gaining wealth as fast as rich people.

Between now and then, I have tried to form an educated opinion on every company that I was interested in from an investment perspective and I wanted to formalize that in this article. I talked with a more experienced investor lately and he mentioned how writing down your investment thesis will keep you accountable and focused.

I can definitely see that happening, since one can get distracted by a great pitch and ignore certain points, if you don’t have a clear list.

So here are my criteria for my next few years of investing:

  • invest in what I know: marketing technology, artificial intelligence practical applications, customer experience technology, blockchain technology, fintech
  • invest in strong founding teams: vetted backgrounds, big-tech alumni, serial entrepreneurs, track record for success; AND/OR great to work with, smart, driven, resourceful, growth mindset (if it’s meaningful enough to get involved personally)
  • look for traction or early interest: they have already some paying customers, there is a long waitlist for their product/service, people are willing to use their app, any kind of proof that they are on to something
  • the market size is meaningful: they are not limited to local geos, the vision is to address a global market and scale massively; minimum TAM of $10B in 5 years and growing
  • investor signaling: if someone wealthier, more experienced than me (a.k.a. top tier accelerators, angels, VCs) already risked early money with them, then I’m more likely to consider investing.

This list is likely to evolve, as I get more experience in the space, so I welcome any suggestions, ideas or feedback!

Photo by Lily Zhou on Unsplash

Categories
Artificial Intelligence

Podcast: Get your AI On with MorphL – Marketing AI Products

Since coming to the US in 2016, I’ve had on and off attempts to get back to public speaking, with some webinars, virtual events, but not podcasts.

So when Ciprian from MorphL – the AI platform for e-commerce. reached out to me about being on Get your AI On, I was excited to jump in.

I’m really happy with how it turned out! You can listen to me and Ciprian talk about AI, marketing and entrepreneurship for about 36 minutes.

Preview: A marketing campaign is not that different to how people think about AI projects, at a high level.

It took me 10 years of marketing and 4 years in the AI industry to figure this one out. I’m not going to spoil it by talking about the content anymore. You have to listen to it to get details.

Let me know if you liked it. Let me know if you didn’t. I won’t be offended.

As usual, I represented myself in the podcast, on my own free time, as a marketer and AI industry member. Ideas and thoughts are my own.

Photo by Hal Gatewood on Unsplash

Categories
Advertising Digital Tips

eBook Review: How to get started with Facebook Ads in B2B

Earlier this week, a friend of mine announced that he published a B2B Facebook ads guide. I got the ebook almost the same day and wanted to share a few thoughts about it here (with his permission).

I think how to’s are great subtitles, and here, “How to get started with Facebook Ads in B2B,” feels like it needs a bigger story to attach to. I would recommend going for an evocative title, something that speaks to the value of getting started with those ads – maybe brand awareness, cost optimization or untapped audiences.

The eBook starts with a contrarian view on B2B marketing trends, and tries to challenge the myth that Facebook only works for B2C/DTC brands. I would have loved to see a few goals to expect, or some sense of scope for using Facebook as a B2B channel. They anchor the ads then to the funnel – mid- and top of the funnel activities, that complement SEM and other intent based efforts. Arguing that there’s behavioral data on Facebook you can use for tracking makes sense, but an example would have helped me understand the thinking behind the theory. What are some of the attributed you use on Facebook to target a buyer audience?

I agree that Facebook is underutilized for B2B, but you compete with B2C brands, and the people you may be targeting with your B2B ad might be prime buyers for DTC brands, so your costs won’t go down that well. Something to think about.

The SMB argument is interesting, since it seems that the goal of the ebook is less about brand awareness and engagement, but more direct buys via Facebook. This certainly doesn’t work for B2B enterprise solutions, but I wouldn’t discount the leadgen component for that segment.

The options discussed below seems to steer back into enterprise, since option B specifically talks about CMOs being the target audience. I would have loved to see a more SMB example here. I’m also confused on why you would need 10-15k users for Option A, and only 200 for Option B. I would also want to understand more about collecting event data, and intent actions – what tools, what events etc.

I’m assuming that’s the pixel installation and config, but a transition would help clarify that. I would also add additional structure to the pixel setup, based on event types, going beyond the click. That’s very well done in the audience setup part of the eBook, where you leverage that traffic you collected in the pre-requisites.

Do not spam with retargeting is always good advice. No one wants to be followed around by ads.

As the eBook continues with tips and tricks, the advice is great, but I feel the need to anchor it to an example that is used throughout the book, unpacking it piece by piece, and showing what worked and what didn’t at each stage of the experimentation. This is especially important for creatives and messaging examples, as well as targeting.

I wanted to see more in the learning phase, almost expecting their story and learning, and some guidance on how many experiments to run, how big those experiments should be and where common pitfalls are, with specific examples. I’m sure they spent a sizable amount of money and time learning, it’s just not reflected here clearly enough.

Here’s what’s not that great – in the lead magnets section, the narrative shifts specifically to the SaaS platform that’s authoring the book. In the shift is not clear whether they are using this as an example or promoting some of their features, so I would recommend clarifying that. The deep dive into the platform screenshot then feels too sales-y for this eBook, which promised me Facebook Ads for B2B and instead is promoting a platform/CRM. I get the need to connect it to the product, but there are better ways to do it and you can wait until the end, or invite the reader to a separate mid-funnel doc.

The experiment section is great advice, and I would add some more detail on structuring, measuring and iterating on experiments – KPIs, duration, methods to launch, track and iterate.

The conclusion page could expand on the types of goals B2B marketers have and summarize how they can achieve them by following this eBook’s advice. This is where you can invite people to check out the platform and combine their B2B Facebook efforts with Ocean.io.

Overall, I think the eBook helps people think differently about B2B ads, but it takes a bit of time and I had to read it a few times to extract that “what would be applicable for my use case” essence.

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

Categories
Life

33 cool things I did before I turned 33

Yeah, it happened.

I managed to get to the great palindromic age of 33.

Some people imagine their lives as adults when they are still kids, how their lives would look like. For me, it wasn’t that. I mostly tried to make it at least 5 years into the future. After all, I couldn’t really imagine much from post-communist Romania, in a quiet corner of north-west Transylvania.

But little did I know.

Without further ado, here it goes:

  1. I traveled to over 30 countries. I think this year I was supposed to be up to 33, but then corona happened.
  2. I rode a 1700 cc Harley at sunset, near the Golden Gate bridge, in San Francisco.
  3. I went snowboarding for over 20 days in a season, up at Tahoe.
  4. I lived in London, UK, for 2 years.
  5. I moved far, far away from my hometown for college. Like a 12 hour train ride away, or 600km in Romania.
  6. I lived in Salt Lake City, UT, for a month just to snowboard and work remotely while at a crypto startup.
  7. I moved to San Francisco with about 2 months of runway in the bank and zero safety nets.
  8. I got married in a foreign country. After meeting her on a beach, at 3am, on the Romanian seaside.
  9. I camped in the mountains and on the beach.
  10. I built a website in 2009 and bought my first car with the money from it. Then decided to become a marketer.
  11. I graduated from an Executive MBA at 26, an age where most of my colleagues had more business experience than I had life. Also, I didn’t really know how I would eventually pay for it.
  12. I commuted by plane from Bucharest to London every month, for 2 years.
  13. Swam and snorkeled between continents in Iceland.
  14. Saw the northern lights, several times, also in Iceland.
  15. Saw the Niagara Falls while in Toronto at a decentralized identity event.
  16. Bought an investment property in Ohio.
  17. Paid $4,000 rent for a 1 bedroom. Per month.
  18. Earned $1.5/hour as my first real job, without a college degree, in 2009.
  19. Dropped out of my first college adventure in finance, banking and stock exchange.
  20. Finished college as a distance learner, with career switchers and high-school exam second timers. Also graduated at the same time as my wife, even though she’s almost 4 years younger than me.
  21. Lost money on the stock market using leveraged instruments and derivatives.
  22. Lost money in crypto ICOs
  23. Made enough money to pay that $4,000 per month rent in SF.
  24. Worked from home for over 10 months before we all had to. It sucked then, still sucks now.
  25. I organized tech and entrepreneurship meetups in London and San Francisco. Still organize them in SF, only virtually while we get rid of the virus.
  26. Worked in advertising, mining, consulting, food delivery, fintech, AI, crypto and identity, with vending machines, data. I’m actively interested in quantum computing, so who knows what’s next.
  27. Owned an Audi A1 at 23, bought with my own money.
  28. I surfed in the Pacific Ocean. It’s cold.
  29. Got laid off from a controversial gold and silver mining project and left my birth country to pursue tech.
  30. Won the Green Card lottery, even though when I first found out about it in 2012, i thought it was a scam. Applied a few years in a row to get it. It’s real.
  31. I jumped from a plane, at 30,000 ft, with a parachute.
  32. I traveled to Hong Kong in a business class seat with my wife, for fun.
  33. I started writing, again and again.

There’s a ton more things I could add here, but I’ll save some for other years. I’m sure there’s plenty more to come.

Happy birthday to me!

Photo by Flora Mipsum on Unsplash

Categories
Digital Tips

Beware of Covid-19/World Bank Compensation Funds scam

Beware of Covid-19/World Bank Compensation Funds scam over email from a James Oatman.

Just got this email today:

I know it looks like an obvious scam to me.

  • it’s asking for detailed personal information
  • it’s coming from an unverified email address
  • claims to want to wire me money internationally
  • there are some failed autocomplete items in the copy
  • points out to a 3rd person that should offer “legitimacy” to the transaction
  • is deemed as urgent
  • it features poor use of English
  • Gmail flagged it as suspicious

If, with this article, I can save at least one person’s information from these scammers, I’ve done my job.

Stay safe out there!

Categories
Change Management Strategy

Empowering, not imposing – a lesson for hard times

Empowering people is hard. Imposing an opinion, solution or direction might seem like an easier way in hard times.

Spoiler alert: it’s not.

When you’re starting out a new role or a new project, or if you’re simply going through some changes in your professional or personal life, you’ll find yourself reacting with your lizard brain, the “thinking fast” one. That can get you out of trouble fast. But it can also create a lot more chaos than it was to begin with.

Reflections from a personal story

I was in a situation like that recently and I was fortunate enough to be able to reflect on it a few months after the dust settled. Mergers and acquisitions are hard. Integrations are where a lot of companies end up failing. There is also constant context for conflict and roadblocks for projects. For months, as a new hire, I was involved in integrating two brands. That meant meetings, not only to get to know people, but to build things with them from the get-go. We went from forming to storming really quickly and it was hard to see the clear path to norming and performing.

I saw people being in the way (and they weren’t), so I tried to push them out of the way (so they pushed back).

It’s not very empowering, is it?

That made my life and my goals much harder to achieve. It also didn’t benefit me or the team, or the larger company context altogether. I went into meetings with a clear outcome in mind, and tried to impose the best way forward. That prevented me from collaborating with everyone else in the room. It also took much more work from my side to get to a real solution, and move things forward.

I was missing an important piece: I didn’t consider what I didn’t know. I assumed I have enough information to formulate a clear conclusion about the future.

For me, it’s not natural to admit I don’t know something or that I need help. It’s something you’re taught to avoid while growing up as a man in Romania. You have to be strong and decisive, provide solutions fast, think on your feet at all times. After all, in school, in class, whenever we were asked a question, we had to answer on the spot or get punished. Not the most empowering environment. It also builds a “come up with any answer” mindset that’s not helpful later on.

Empowering: Stop and think

I recently learned a cool way to reframe this. Before making a major decision or change of direction, ask yourself:

“What are the implications of the things we haven’t considered?”

Let me unpack that a little bit.

First, you are already a step ahead by telling yourself that there are, in fact, things that you might not have considered.

Secondly, those things are likely to have implications in your projects/tasks/endeavors.

By spending a few more hours / days thinking about this question, you’ll be able to make better decisions and empower, not impose. You’ll have strong reasons for the way you are envisioning.

This way you’ll turn to empowering, and drop the impositions.

But this was recently, months after I had got through working on the big change project.

Turning imposing into empowering

Back to my personal story. What helped me turn around was asking myself: “Is what I’m doing right now helping the team succeed?”. If the answer was no, I would shut up and let others move on with their desired path. If it was yes, I would try to ask more questions. I would also be able to suggest other outcomes as I learned more about what I didn’t know.

Next time you feel like you want to grab people and show them the way forcefully, don’t. Choose your battles.

Think of it like you are across the field from them. Instead of trying to pull them to your original position, walk towards them ask them to walk towards you. Now you both have a slightly different perspective about the problem. Now you can try to see a shared path to the solution. Ask questions, listen and and walk with them to the shared solution. Just be careful to not walk too far in their direction and lose the way completely.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash