Key take aways from Trust me I am lying

Trust me I am lying

The publication eco-system

  • Every content creator within the publication ecosystem is under immense pressure to produce content under the tightest deadline.
    • renumeration is based on number of articles per period time
    • eye balls are converted to advertising revenue
    • lots of copying happens
  • Media was once about protecting a new, on the web it is about building one
    • well defined scope matters
    • content that dives deep into its vertical matters
  • Headlines are the most important
  • Tools of the trade
    • lavish pictures
    • impostors, frauds and fake interviews
    • support for the underdog causes
    • anonymous sources
    • prominent coverage of high society and events
    • different age but same old tricks
  • On monetization
    • Advertising is the main driver of revenue
    • Subscription model focus on trusted source as opposed to advertising source
    • RSS got killed because it went against the interest of Advertisers
  • On the online medium
    • The demands of the medium forces the bloggers to act they way they are
    • Tim Berners Lee stacked new content on the top and the rest of the internet thus follows
    • Thus the need to constantly create new content

On Virality

  • The most powerful predictor of virality is how much anger an article evokes.
  • The most powerful predictor of what spreads online is anger
    • sensationalism
    • extremism
    • sex
    • scandal
    • hatred
  • Things must be negative but not too negative so as to incite action
  • Media needs to get you feeling negative so that you are more likely to share
  • Empty vessels are incline to snark so as to feel unjustifiably good about themselves

On reality

  • Chris Hedges
    • is complicated and boring
    • the masses are incapable and unwilling to handle its confusion
    • In an age of images, entertainment and instant emotional gratification, no one seeks honesty and gratification
  • Cognitive biases
    • we are bad at being sketical
      • availability biases
      • narrative fallacy
    • we are worst at correcting our wrong beliefs
      • social proofing
      • consistency biases
  • First decide what you are intending to do with the information you collected

Related readings

Understanding cognitive biases is important for startups


All decisions are inherently emotional. Our lymphatic system is a more ancient and robust system than our logical faculties. Its been shown in studies, conducted by Antonio Damasio in 2000, that patients with damage to the part of the brain that processes emotions have trouble making even the smallest decisions.

Humans are by nature social creatures. Studies show that our brains contain mirror neurons which endows us the ability to empathize with another fellow human being. This also implies our emotions are easily subjected to the influence of others. This is why it is important to get familiar with the various cognitive biases in the human brain and what triggers them (see lecture by Charlie Munger).

On the flip side, it is possible to exploit cognitive biases to boost sales conversions. This is an art that touts in the streets of Cairo have mastered through years of practice. The effectiveness of any street tout is dependent on the number of cognitive biases he can exploit during the short period of encounter with his subject.

A case study on how cognitive biases are combined and used

A tout might start the conversation with a small ask, e.g. as simple as “what is your name?”. This seemingly innocent question when responded will trigger off the consistency bias. The subject will inevitably feel a sense of cognitive dissonance if he were to stop further conversation after having started the conversation by telling the tout his name.

The tout next proceeds to offer a seemingly harmless “gift” which might be small and of little value. This gift, when accepted, will exploit the reciprocity bias. The subject having received something of value will inevitably feel uneasy if he does not reciprocate in kind.

Since the subject at this point, without any prior data points, is yet sure on the “value” to place on the “gift”, a skillful tout might take the opportunity to exploit the anchoring bias by providing an high arbitrarily number about something seemingly unrelated such as one of the following:

  • the age of his 90 year old mum
  • the age of the pyramids
  • the inhumanly high temperature

This arbitrarily high number will help facilitate a higher perceived valuation of the “gift”.

And while he is telling about his mum or kids, he might exploit the authority bias by saying his mum is sick and needs money to see the doctor. One might say there is no person of authority in the immediate proximity. However in this scenario, the person is actually some authority figure the subject had in his life, while he was growing up, who preached to him the importance of being a good human being and helping others in need. Having delivered his story till this point, the tout should have successfully wiggled himself to a moral high ground in relationship to the subject.

It can be assumed that sometime has already past since the subject was given physical possession of the gift. The endowment effect should have kicked in by then. The subject if he was even mildly inclined towards the gift at the onset, he will feel a potentially higher level of psychological discomfort at returning the “gift” to the tout.

At this point from a psychological perspective, for the subject to be able to refuse the request of the tout for a donation, he would necessarily need to have priorly developed much mastery over his own emotions. It can be safely assumed the percentage of subjects parting with a “token” amount of donation to the tout will be significantly higher than an alternative scenario where a beggar simply approached begged for money.

How it is relevant to your funnel

Now one would ask how does this relate to driving up conversion rates in my startup application? The point of the story is not to teach you how to be “evil“, by getting your user to doing something against his will, but to illustrate the importance of catering to his psychological needs within your onboarding experience. The reason why your user landed at the top of your funnel was because he has a genuine need that he hopes your application could get done for him.

A smooth flowing onboarding experience coupled with a compelling story will help keep your user motivated as you drive him down the funnel towards the magic moment within your application. There is a reason why folks call the magic moment an Aha! moment. From a biological perspective, your user’s brain releases a small dose of dopamine (a feel good reward) during that very instance.

The key to user retention is to figure how to encourage repeated actions by your user so that he could experience the Aha! moment again and again until the action becomes a habit and your user does it reflexively without needing to think about it. Of course, to ensure your service can continue to benefit the world,  it is important to remember asking for contribution to pay for server cost at some point…

At GetData.IO, our mission is to turn the Web into the fully functional Giant Graph Database of Human Knowledge. We aim to do so by nurturing a community of like-minded contributors, hence the importance of successfully on-boarding our users. This is because every successfully created data source will not only benefit its creator but also other community members that might have need of it in the future.

Related References

  • Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, Nir Eyal
  • Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body, Daniel Goldman
  • AARRR framework, Dave McClure
  • Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Revised Edition, Robert B Cialdini
  • The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg
  • The psychology of human misjudgment, Charlie Mung
  • Jobs to Be Done: A Roadmap for Customer-Centered Innovation, Stephen Wunker

Deep penetration of Chinese in Egypt


Middle class mainland Chinese tourists photo taking in Temple of Karnak
An Egyptian tout observed to attempt at granting middle class mainland Chinese tourist access to prohibited sections of the temple in exchange for bakshee(bribe). How did two groups of people that started at similar baseline post World War Two end up with drastically different economic outcomes after 60 years?
Huawei observed to habevdeeply penetrated the Egyptian. Majority of mobile phone vendors observed to have accepted the company’s sponsorship for signboards

Walking around in the temples found around the area of Luxor, it’s been observed that the population of Chinese tourists were significant, whilst the concentration of Americans tourists were negligible.

It can be speculated the negative PR generated on the territory by American press has relatively lesser impact on Chinese tourism as compared to American tourism.

It is noteworthy that  Chinese brands have been observed to be very active in sponsoring local businesses.

Analysis of Saudi Arabia’s revenue model disruption and technology trends within Jordan

While speaking with a Saudi traveler in the desert of Wadi Rum, Jordan, its been observed that disruption of Saudi Arabia’s revenue model has forced much domestic changes within the country.

The prince has brought about drastic reforms in response to the disruption much to the chagrin of traditionalist hardliners. Women are now given the rights to drive vehicles and also work. For the first time ever Saudi’s were able to see Circ Du Soleil within their country. It can be speculated that these reforms are intended to double the total number of potential workforce in the country and get the thought process of the workforce more in sync with the rest of the world as Saudi Arabia gears its economy for a world that is no longer dependent on oil for energy.

Disruption examined using Micheal Porter’s 5 forces framework


The shale oil innovation has put a max cap on oil prices around the world at USD80 per barrel. Traditionally oil dependent countries within the OPEC could artificially restrict oil supply to drive up oil prices. However, post the era of innovation when such strategy employed, shale oil producers will immediately start pumping supplies into the market when price becomes viable.

New entrants

The Paris Climate agreement has catalyst a movement to shift away from oil to renewable sources of energy. Already China and India have became large players of solar energy. With innovation within this sector continuously driving down costs, it is likely the world will see an inflection point whereby solar energy becomes cheaper to produce than fossil fuel based energy.


A paradigm shift will occur amongst Saudi’s in relation to their attitude towards women as independent individuals with economic autonomy as opposed to individuals whose sole function is to be on the receiving side of male attention and care.

It remains unclear the impact of social media on the the upcoming shift within population.

Its also been observed via various sources within the Bay Area that Saudi Arabia is increasingly turning to investments in technology to drive the next stage of their economic growth.

Saudi Arabia is seen as the economic trend leader within region. It is likely their eventual model will get mimicked by other oil-dependent middle eastern countries.

Other notable observations within Jordan

Asian companies like Hyundai, Toyota, Kia, Nissan have been observed to dominate the region in terms of manufactured cars. The only other notable brands that are not Asian are Mercedes and Ford.

Android and Asian companies like Samsung, Huawei and Sony have been observed to dominate the region in terms of mobile computing.

Facebook is the only social network that has been observed to deeply penetrate the region. Majority of folks utilize WatsApp. Facebook is less commonly seen on phones of users.

User huddled over Android device in Wadi Rum. To understand their needs, technologist need to become more keenly familiar with the Android OS.

Related references

  • Only the paranoid survives, Andy Grove

Mobike and Bird’s #GrowthHack tear down in Tel Aviv


Backpackers tend to cover above average length distance on a daily basis to explore the places they are visiting.

Every evening, bikes are strategically placed at the entrance of each backpacker hostel in the town of Tel Aviv as well as the high potential foot print touristy junctions. 

The virality loop growth hack works in two ways. Firstly, the hostel operators  would educate guest on how to use the bikes that were left at the entrance of their guest houses. Secondly, the backpackers would ride these vehicles around town thereby increasing total number of subjects exposed to MoBike’s brand.

This is how the linear acquisition loop works. Successfully onboarded guest will bring this concept to other towns. Since Mobike is able to track the whereabouts of their users, they will be able to accurately determine the next densest locale to extend their infrastructure by running a simple query of their database.

Metric breakdown

  • New User – Hostel backpackers
  • Invite – Exposure to Mobikes
  • Branch – 1 guest or hostel operator talking about Mobike with other guests staying at backpackers
  • Channel – word of mouth
  • CTR – number of new users installing the App on their phone to activate MoBike

General insights on Tel Aviv

  • Its been observed that 70% of bicycles/mini-scooters in Tel Aviv are electrically powered.
  • Observed percentage of obsessed passer-bys are around 1%
  • Fast food per block is negligible.
  • City has well paved broad walks where cyclists and pedestrians can traverse
  • Mini-scooter were observed to travel at speed just slightly slower than cars on the road

Insights from Val of Totango

Customers consider their engagement with a business as a one on one relationship while businesses consider their engagement with a customer as purely transactional. This divide is the cause of a lot of unsatisfied customers.

When purely operating within the transactional paradigm, the business is motivated to shave operating overheads. This results in the customer being forced to engage with a whole bunch of bots before they get the opportunity to actually interact with a person. And even then, they are forced to repeat the communication of their needs as they get transferred from one person to another within the organization.

As mentioned by Seth Godin, it is important to avoid the pitfalls of falling into purely operating from the transactional paradigm and attempt to stay the course of operating from the relationship paradigm. Technology should be used to enable the operator to more deeply engage with the customer rather than automating out of existence the human to human contact.

Further references

Insights from Hannes

Three critical conditions for any projects to work

  1. If the technology will work
  2. If there is an actual applicable use case
  3. If we can build a viable business model

Once these three conditions are met, it then makes sense to double down on investment and scale the projects rapidly.

Insights from drinks with Charles Wu

On pivotal

Pivotal was able to grow by setting up a process that allows them to build out simple CRUD app using second tier software developers.

Their pair programming practice allowed them the ability to use relatively cheaper software developers to build out these simple projects while buffering them against the relatively high churn rate.

Their partnership with Code camps like hacker reactor has allowed access to a constantly supply of relatively cheaper labor.

Their standardization of the technology stack to just Rails and Java has further facilitated the interchangeability of developers across projects.

To ensure no wenches gets thrown into the process pipeline, they primarily target companies with legacy systems that need migration away from.

They choose to avoid startups solving technical problems that require deep domain expertise. Supporting Twilio requirements was a real challenge to their process.

On Twitter

Most of the progress by Twitter recently has been stuff that they have talked about before Jack Dorsey’s return as CEO.

The main road block to was management’s inability to make a decision to execute driven mainly about insecurity over potential impact to users.

On Facebook

Was highly stressful. Put on a lot of weight during tenure. Work life balance was a challenge

On having run rate

Reid Hoffman mentioned when you have a long run rate and are able to stay in the game, it’s lije playing baseball without the fear of ever striking out. You just have to wait for the home run.

On shares

Employees have lock in period after a company goes IPI before they can sell off their shares. It’s important to define clearly your exit and not get too greedy

On being Asian in this time and age

Crazy Rich Asian has really help set the trend and this demand for Asian Actors for the next few years. If you are tall, Asian and good looking you have basically cornered the market at this point. Why not give it a shot and go do some casting in the Bay Area?

By the way do something about that domain you own called

On health and use psychology

Most health issues can be attributed to bad habits like smoking, drinking and fast food. So long as you have a habit of working out and eating healthy it is possible to stave off 90% of health issues.

The trip with Health is to capitalize on the reciprocal bias that humans have. Humans have an inability to differentiate at an emotional level between other humans and things that does favor for them. A robot that pretends to be human that nags them to perform behavior beneficial for their health falls into that category

Hospitals get fined when heart patients return to the hospital within a specific period of time after being released. As such they utilize call centers to help remind recently discharged patients to perform healthy behaviors that will reduce the likelihood of their return.


Ideation process

  1. Gather qualitative data through user interviews
  2. Gather historical quantitative behavioral and segmentation data if any
  3. define problem statements
  4. define personas
  5. Prioritize personas base on segment size and organization strategy/mission fit
  6. Prioritize problem statements based on problem and product feature fit
  7. generate many design concept variants  as different approaches to tackling problem
  8. curate and prioritize them as agile stories
  9. implement base feature set
  10. roll out to user base
  11. validate outstanding hypothesis to gain visibility
  12. iterate on results
  13. head back to step 1

External references

  • User centric design high level –

Morning reflections on marketing and story telling

The core motivation underlying the whole concept of marketing is to build trust in an entity by a targeted community with the use of this ancient technology called words.

The story that is accompanied with the release and roll out of a solution/feature/product to a community needs to be coherent and consistent to the context members in the community is familiar with. A well crafted story will be easily processed and digested in the limbic brain of the community member, thus truggering off the desired set of hormones/emotions.

Lagging awareness of the underlying context, a mis-crafted message will cause cognitive dissonance in the prefrontal coretex of the community member resulting in a mild level of adrenaline release in the reptilian brain. This effect will serve to erode instead of build trust. It is important to spend time understanding the context/worldview a community holds to identify the “problem” you want to solve within that same community before crafting up the story to communicate how the solution will solve that specific problem the community is facing.

Thus the importance of doing ethnographic research as well as always maintaining a clear understanding that the purpose of any organization (for-profit/non-profit) lies not within its four walls but within the community it intends to serve. It also highlights the importance the need to be awary of employing a one-size fits all marketing story without thorough research into variance across all communities being served.

External references

  • The Essential Drucker, Peter F Drucker
  • Permission marketing, Seth Godin
  • Purple Cow, Seth Godin
  • Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari