Things Humanity Could Do Right Now to Save Planet Earth From Climate Change

I regularly think about how anthropogenic(man-made) climate disasters will wake and accelerate the spread of the next influenza pandemic. I spent some time yesterday pondering what would be necessary to quickly blitzkrieg carbon emissions and buy humanity time to research battery chemistry and build out a solar grid over the course of the next 50-100 years. That’s how long an energy transition takes, and it always takes more years because the population grows.

If we wanted to save the planet from climate change, I would think the following are necessary/vital:

  • Overfund Planned Parenthood and Birth Control organizations, companies, and NGOs. This reduces the total number of humans and means less global energy consumption.
  • Pour billions into battery research. (Lithium!). It’s the greatest bottleneck to Solar power being of any real utility to the masses.
  • Provide massive subsidies for the installation and purchase of high efficiency natural gas furnaces, CFC Bulbs, and Diesel Vehicles. These things all reduce carbon emissions across the board.
  • Fund high speed rail at the federal level aggressively. It’s ridiculous that we don’t have high speed rail between major cities in Canada and the USA. It happens at the federal level. Let’s get some freaking bombardier trains and stop burning 10,000kilowatt hours
  • Fast-track permits for geographically optimal renewables – Wind turbines for wind alleys, hydro for waterfalls, geothermal for hot zones, solar for high quality solar irradiance/temperature, and Nuclear for all else.
  • Fast track Nuclear Power Plants to crush coal as quickly as possible.
  • Teach millions of children about Embodied Energy as a curriculum requirement and require embodied energy labels on 100% of consumer products at the federal level.

If I Was Betting On the Future of Genetics

If I was betting the future on genetics, I might hold on to my money til it gets extremely cheap to do full exome sequencing and medical records aggregation.

There’s probably going to be 20-40 companies doing both of these things. (Full exome sequencing and medical records aggregation).

In the interim, I’d focus on methodologies that revolve around collecting the attention and/or spit of sick people, twins, triplets, and quadruplets for as low as a cost as possible.

Blood generally presents issues, spit works better, or at least according to the molecular biologists I’ve spoken to.

Kaepernick’s Protest and A Hugely Addressable Issue: US Debtor’s Prisons

tldr: There are highly addressable issues that would move the needle for the Black Lives Matter movement. I outline one here: Debtor Prisons.

The American Football Star Who Protested Racial Injustice
Colin Kaepernick recently kneeled at the national anthem to raise awareness of social injustice toward black people in the USA and at large.  He’s a National Football League star in the USA.

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Our Current Point in History and News Cycles

Right now, the USA is going through a time where we’re extremely concerned with social justice and race, specifically as it relates to black people. Have a look through Blavity and observe their meteoric rise through internet search rankings. The content about social and judicial injustice is ripe and on everyone’s mind in the USA.
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Can Colin’s Action as a Celebrity Move the Needle on the Issues that Matter?

But alas, I digress. Back to Colin…..

It’s hard to clarify whether or not Colin Kaepernick’s actions actually make a relevant difference to social/racial injustice.

I’m not necessarily sure this type of action has the strong impact that would drive a meaningful systemic change. As a growth marketer and engineer, I’m always concerned with how to make a protest or fundraiser extremely high ROI.

A Side Story About Effective High ROI Protest:
One of my favorite protestors is @sinak, he’s the reason you can unlock your cell phone from carrier to carrier in the USA without paying fees. He used his tech skills to drive over 100,000 petition sign ups and change US Laws around telecom companies.

Focus and Sequence matter. He identified the pressure points and applied pressure appropriately to move the needle for 300M Americans.

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Read his story here: https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2014/08/15/heres-how-cell-phone-unlocking-became-legal

As an engineer, I always want to see how the levers in any system move, shake, and resonate to achieve the desired effect.

Moving the needle in a significant way on issues of social justice usually requires more tactical sophistication than simply kneeling at the anthem and making a donation to a non-profit. But Kudos to Colin for raising awareness and getting more people to think about the issues and ask questions.


What Kind of Things Would Advance Society Toward More Equitable Justice?

I spent some time thinking about activities that are high ROI and would be more likely to move the needle on social justice. I immediately thought of  Debtors Prisons.

 

ACCORDING TO THE ACLU – AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION:

Nearly two centuries ago, the United States formally abolished the incarceration of people who failed to pay off debts. Yet, recent years have witnessed the rise of modern-day debtors’ prisons—the arrest and jailing of poor people for failure to pay legal debts they can never hope to afford, through criminal justice procedures that violate their most basic rights.

State and local courts have increasingly attempted to supplement their funding by charging fees to people convicted of crimes, including fees for public defenders, prosecutors, court administration, jail operation, and probation supervision. And in the face of mounting budget deficits at the state and local level, courts across the country have used aggressive tactics to collect these unpaid fines and fees, including for traffic offenses and other low-level offenses. These courts have ordered the arrest and jailing of people who fall behind on their payments, without affording any hearings to determine an individual’s ability to pay or offering alternatives to payment such as community service.

In response, since 2009, the ACLU and ACLU affiliates across the country have been exposing and challenging modern-day debtors’ prisons, and urging governments and courts to pursue more rational and equitable approaches to criminal justice debt.

Debtors’ prisons impose devastating human costs. They lead to coercive debt collection, forcing poor people to forgo the basic necessities of life in order to avoid arrest and jailing. Debtors’ prisons waste taxpayer money and resources by jailing people who may never be able to pay their debts. This imposes direct costs on the government and further destabilizes the lives of poor people struggling to pay their debts and leave the criminal justice system behind. And most troubling, debtors’ prisons create a racially-skewed, two-tiered system of justice in which the poor receive harsher, longer punishments for committing the same crimes as the rich, simply because they are poor.

Ultimately, debtors’ prisons are not only unfair and insensible, they are also illegal. Imprisoning someone because she cannot afford to pay court-imposed fines or fees violates the Fourteenth Amendment promises of due process and equal protection under the law.

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Samuel Brooke- Modern day hero and high ROI social justice warrior.

Debtors Prisons may be the single most addressable lowest hanging fruit of the social inequalities in our justice system today that can be solved within 12-24 months of decisive action/protest/and coordination.

Samuel Brooke: Enter Modern Day Hero
I say 12-24 months because that’s about how long it took Samuel Brooke filed lawsuits against all the private probation companies in Alabama and basically ended the practice in the state. He created a domino effect and municipalities started parting ways with all the private collections and corrections companies. Samuel Brooke is basically the equivalent of Batman.

Debtors prisons, filled with poor people of multiple races, are predominantly black.

Debtors prisons and our system for them in the States is totally ungepatched, messed up, adulterated, and corrupt. If we’re concerned about the judicial system or social justice as it stands today, a great starting point is debtors prisons.

Currently, we have 9 states in the USA that will jail you for failing to pay legal fines. I’m not even talking about legal fines for violent crimes, we’re talking about things like traffic violations and not painting your roof. In 9 states, the inability to pay for violations like these, means an arrest warrant and you going to jail.

The Geography of Our Discontent

The States where people can be jailed for inability to pay fines can occur: New Hampshire, Washington, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio, Michigan, and Missouri.

We should lobby tactically for an end to privately controlled municipal courts. Part of me wonders if this can be done by the boycotting and coercion of businesses that fund local/state representatives.

Each of these 9 states will jail people for failing to pay legal fines. Traffic violations and quality of life ordinances are causing poor black people in the States to be indentured into a life of paying off the judicial system for freedom.

If you have 15 minutes, and care about these issues, please have a quick read through of this paper: http://03a5010.netsolhost.com/WordPress/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/ArchCity-Defenders-Municipal-Courts-Whitepaper.pdf


It describes in detail some of the issues at hand.

My Landing Page Workflow

  1. Use Instapage.com + FlatIcon.com
    1. Saves time + Testimonial
    2. Saves money + Testimonials
    3. Fear of missing out/industrial Grade Benefits Claim + testimonial
  2. Email 3 friends and ask for feedback/critique and ask if it makes sense?
  3. Edit Your Page based on feedback.
  4. Repeat steps through 1-3 a few times.
  5. Once you’ve repeated…..
  6. Go to GoodUI.org and benchmark your site.
    1. Do you have the feature?
    2. Do you not have the feature?
    3. If not, is it worth adding the feature/characteristic to your site.
  7. Test your site against google page speed test or Pingdom.

How I Saved Over $5K On Clothing

A little trick for getting really expensive clothes for cheap. I’ve saved about $4K-$5K using this little trick, so it’s worth sharing.

Take any brand you want.
Go to google alerts and create an alert for
“Liquidation (insert brand name)”
“(insert brand name) closing soon”

Every few weeks/days a major brand closes a store, you might as well arbitrage on the sale if it’s happening near you. This works for bankruptcies too.

About A Year Ago, I Met Someone Who Saved Millions of Lives

About a year ago, I met someone pretty interesting. I think his story is one worth sharing.
 
He spent the last 8 years figuring out how to save Indians from roadside disasters after his nephew died in a roadside accident where good Samaritans didn’t step in.
 
At that time, India did not have forward thinking Good Samaritan laws.
 
This man spent 8 years…think about that… nearly a decade fighting to issue a hard-reset in one of the world’s most difficult bureaucracies. His name is Piyush Thewari. He’s the founder of SaveLife. 

One of the World’s Addressable Problems: Indian Roadside Death Stats
  • 1M+ people in India have lost their lives to road accidents in the last 10 years.
  • 10% of total global road deaths occur here making India the leader in roadside deaths.
  • In 2013 alone, almost 140,000 people were killed and close to 500,000 were seriously injured or permanently disabled
  • 50%: Number of road crash victims who die of treatable injuries
  • 74% of Bystanders are unlikely to assist a victim of serious injury
  • 88% of Bystanders who are unlikely to assist a victim of serious injury, stated that they were reluctant to help for fear of legal hassles, including repeated police questioning and court appearances.
  • 77% of Bystanders who are unlikely to assist injured victims also stated that hospitals unnecessarily detain Good Samaritans and refuse treatment if money is not paid for treatment.
If you want to read more about him, here it is:

Westerners and Their Negotiation Capabilities

Westerners on the whole are pretty lousy negotiators, not because they’re incapable of being good negotiators, but because the vast majority of them have never truly negotiated a multitude or variety of things outside of a car, house, or salary.
 
In America, consumers go to the grocery store and prices are static/set/non-negotiable. The negotiation muscle isn’t being worked.
 
Most of the American books I’ve read on negotiation are a disservice to anyone trying to negotiate prices and consist of pretty hit or miss tactics like quoting an extra high price or never saying a number.
 
I *think* great negotiation is based on the fear of missing out, urgency, data arbitrage, experience fragmentation, perceived value, perceived notion of competition, a desire to be draconian, existential pain, grit, stoic capability, ROI leverage, acquired philosophical alignment, and non-existential-threatening deception.
 

The best negotiators I’ve met in the USA have distinctively been 2nd generation Americans/Immigrants and people who sell art/music, but they also workout their negotiation muscles weekly on increasingly larger ticket items.

For low-life-time value deals and low alignment, I know I’ve failed if they’re still smiling at the end.

How On-Demand and Subscription Startups Juice Growth, Raise Money, and Die

I’ve chosen Freshly to pick on, but let’s be real, there’s tons of them that we’ve seen in the last few years.


How Freshly.com Grows Really Big and Fails.

We can’t do forensic accounting on digital fraud, but I think that’s what has actually occurred here.

The question is whether or not the investors are cognizant of Freshly faking their reviews?

Here’s the basic Freshly Meal Delivery Smash n’ Grab.

  1. Give away groupon style deals.
  2. Everyone wants them. The deals are ridiculous. Gourmet meals for 5 bucks. Just reheat them. The company pours ads on top of this and do referral programs. Super easy to setup with good modals and images.
  3. Freshly buys fake reviews. (yep it happens all the time)
  4. Freshly Show investors their growth curve.
  5. Investors dump money onto the company.
  6. Use same groupon strategy to expand in other cities.
  7. Oh Fuck moment when the lifetime value of the customers disappears.
  8. Company implodes.
  9. At first I didn’t doubt their ability to run a food delivery company, until I brought them 14 customers and found it exceedingly difficult to cash in on the promo-codes they fed me back. (This was more of an experiment with a twitter bot I setup to find hungry people in the Bay Area.)

Their cashout mechanism on referrals is ungodly difficult. The only reason they’d make it this way is because they don’t want customers to cash out on referrals.

If their Lifetime Value was real, they would have a robust affiliate program to blitzkrieg the market. They however, do not.

Twilio IPO Thoughts

SMS Background
You would think that this problem would have been solved decades ago, but because the internet is built on standards that competitors must agree upon – typically called ‘protocols’, these standards take a long time to get adopted and a longer time to work with other standards. One of the most basic mobile standards is SMS or Short Messaging Service – you know it better as ‘Texting’. Because the web and mobile standards grew up on different islands so to speak, sending texts from a web-browser or a cloud-based software application is surprisingly complicated and above all, expensive (only a handful of mobile carriers like AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile control the gateway and charge enormous fees relative to the work they actually do).

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I co-founded a business called LinkTexting. It’s designed to bridge the gap between a desktop browser and your mobile phone. It’s something my cofounder and I built a few years ago because like most good hackers/developers/people who are addicted to building things:

1) We hate when things don’t work properly like they ‘obviously should’

And

2) We’re cheap – preferring to spend hours on coding our main app instead of paying even a penny for something that should be quick and easy.

LinkTexting is the number one way for non-gaming mobile apps to drive downloads from desktop visitors without friction. We rely on SMS as the medium.

We send a few million texts every month. I’ve personally looked at dozens of SMS Application Protocol Interfaces, or ‘API’s’ – the digital version of LEGO brick-like ‘pegs-and-holes.’ SMS APIs are bits of software that take a command from a trigger like a ‘send text’ button and tell the appropriate service what to do with it.

You see them in use all the time, like when you have to verify your phone number or your carrier sends you a bill reminder  – in our case, a line of code allows a website to send a link to your mobile phone. Uber uses SMS to alert you when your driver is about to arrive:

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Enter Twilio  the defacto standard for SMS API

Twilio is a company that figured out early how to create an API for connecting software to the SMS ecosystem. They also understood how to gain rapid adoption in the developer community – by sponsoring hackathons and pricing the service so that anyone that registered would be able to use a significant amount of it for free – a far cry from the difficult and expensive developer tools that were available at the time. Now, developers immediately name Twilio when you say SMS or mention telephony driven applications or features.

Twilio’s rapid growth in the developer/hackathon community was powered by aggressive participation at hackathons.

“At Twilio, I think our strength was contests. I think these contests were really fun and developer contests at that time, there weren’t a ton of them, but now they’re everywhere. Same with hackathons, by the way. Hackathons were not a thing when we started doing hackathons. Now hackathons are everywhere! I would not do a hackathon right now. Maybe I would, but I’m not doing it every day. It’s usually changing all the time.”

Danielle Morrill – Early Twilio Employee

Twilio Does the Best Onboarding

Because of their experience dealing with thousands of developers in a wide variety of situations and environments, Twilio has done an excellent job of creating easy to follow documentation so developers can quickly ramp up into building their apps. This onboarding is a significant barrier to entry for anyone else getting into the space. Twilio is battle-tested, approved and secure – a big selling point for developers who need to use it for Enterprise, Government or Health Care applications.

Twilio is putting on a good show, but they have serious room for improvement

They don’t have the Tier 1 connections to MNOs that their competitors do, in fact they buy access from over 60 different companies to reach mobile networks around the world. Their competitors could reduce or cut access or raise prices if Twilio becomes too big a threat.

Also, one of the flaws that I learned about from a fellow hackathon competitor relates to sending longer messages to Sprint Users. This might not be an issue any more, but what tended to happen is that the longer messages arrived out of order, and while this might not be their fault, I find it hard to believe that twilio still doesn’t have a solution for 1 of the 4 big carriers in the USA.

Initially, we used Twilio, but switched to InfoBip as we desired scale and better pricing. Twilio is better for prototyping, but meh at scaling price and efficient internationalization.

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Already Twilio’s costs are higher than some of their competitors and that is one reason people switch away from them. Twilio’s costs have to be higher because they have to buy access to networks from well-established competitors.

Questionable Lead Funnel

They have 900,000 registered developer accounts, but only 26,000 active users. That’s only 2.8% of people who signed up are actively using it. While some kicking the tires inactive accounts are normal, their entire business is based on a very small number of users. (from their S1 filing)

Other competitors in the space have orders of magnitude more customers than Twilio and those competitors have better infrastructure and stronger direct relationships with the relevant nodes in the telephony chain. InfoBip is my favorite, Nexmo is great too.

In their S1, Twilio noted that WhatsApp accounts for 15% of their business, but doesn’t have a long term contract with Twilio. WhatsApp could leave for a competitor at any time. All the OTTs work with a number of providers already for redundancy, so it wouldn’t be hard for WhatsApp, or any other big name company, to send more or all their traffic to a competitor.

 

They are far from profitable. Losing tens of millions of dollars a year is risky. They have to invest to grow, and that costs money, but is Twilio managing their burn rate?

How much did Signal conference cost Twilio?

Who knows, but putting together an IPO is distracting. As Twilio wants to push IoT and a broader messaging platform, will the leaders have the focus to pull it off?

Twilio is in the SV bubble, there are 579 SMS Apis and many telephony APIs. They understand North America (maybe just the U.S.), but what about the rest of the world? Can Twilio help customers navigate the vagaries of SMS laws around the world?

Twilio wants to be more than just SMS

It’s clear from Signal that Twilio wants to be seen as more than just an SMS provider. From their SIMs for IoT device to their new multi-channel platform, Twilio wants to grow beyond being just the people who supply an SMS API to developers.

Multi-channel is a smart move. Communications is more than SMS and branching out into email and voice is clearly where the rest of the industry is going. Twilio isn’t playing catch up here and are first out of the gate with this offering. Other competitors will soon follow suit.

IoT is a different matter. IoT is a hot sector, but there are lots of questions about security and stability that are unknown. Google/Nest killing off an entire product and stranding customers, give consumers pause. Hackers tapping into home systems puts doubt in the mind of consumers who are already wary of being hacked online.

The Twilio SIM for IoT is an interesting move, but will they get developer traction quickly enough and what if it doesn’t work? Will Twilio continue to support these SIM cards long term?

It shows the industry is going to be a big player

People need to understand sending an SMS from an app isn’t really as easy as sending an SMS to your friend. There are more details and complexities to work out. But having Twilio in the news makes this discussion easier to have. While there are other public companies in the space (CLX), a SV IPO is big news and heralds a shift to a more mature industry. Each big tech IPO paved the way for other companies in their sector. From social networks to search to SaaS, IPOs mean legitimacy in the eyes of the business world. Public companies are held to a higher standard (as they should be).

Twilio’s IPO is good for the industry

The IPO brings attention and money to the sector. Rising tides lift all ships as they say. The whole industry gets a boost and that makes it good for people making apps. Everyone is on their toes and trying to ride Twilio’s buzz too.

Do I believe Twilio has a beautiful monopolistic moat-able telephony API? Not at all. I’ve always believed the value in companies is in Lifetime Value and competitive moating with better offerings to the customer. 

The Broken Egg Theory

I think grit is a fundamental resource to survive. I have this theory called the “broken egg theory.”
brokenegg
If you help a chicken break out of its egg, it will die. You cannot use a silver spoon crack the egg. The chick has to get its heart rate high enough by itself otherwise it dies.

 

I think this is true in life too. People who grow up without struggle never experience the joy of cracking the egg.

They go on, cracking the egg, live on a sort of constant life support, never establishing the deep independence and happiness that they could truly achieve. 
I call it the broken-egg theory.

Sounds weird, I guess, but I always appreciate grit in people. I have deep appreciation for people who have had to crack their own egg and develop grit in the process.

Even those with silver spoons, suffer in the end.