Thinking Without Interruption

By chance have you noticed how often you are interrupted each day?

I am sure every minute or two you are dinged or buzzed with a new text message, IM, email, phone call or Facebook message.   If you are not dinged you are probably grabbing your phone incessantly and checking it yourself, thus breaking from the normal pattern of thought.

In a one word, it’s annoying.  I know life has to continue and we need to communicate with each other but the ever increasing pace of interruptions is definitely becoming more obvious.

I wonder if this Is this good or bad for us humans.

I recently read how Paul graham viewed this phenomenon, as he tied it into the larger addiction conversation.  He ends by saying:

I used to think running was a better form of exercise than hiking because it took less time. Now the slowness of hiking seems an advantage, because the longer I spend on the trail, the longer I have to think without interruption.

…We’ll increasingly be defined by what we say no to.

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I fully agree.

I recently went on a weekend excursion into the Cascades with a group of friends, spending 3 days with my hiking boots, pack and tent.  We hiked 10 miles into glacier lake and set camp for two nights,  We hiked a total of 26 miles in 3 days – all without checking our phones once!

It was refreshing.

I believe we need to schedule into our lives a few days/weeks every so often to be off the grid, just so we can remember what it’s like to not be interrupted every few minutes.   And just so we can be taken back to what a long, winding and challenging conversation with another person feels like without grabbing a device a solving the argument by “googling” the answer. I cannot tell you how great it was to be on the trail, talking with my friends about anything and everything we wanted, without interruption or having to pause because one of us was responding to a text or grabbing a quick phone call.

Remember, technology is there to augment our real world relationships, not replace them.  The nuance is in how we gracefully use technology to enhance our world, not negatively impact it. I was beautifully reminded this on my weekend backpacking trip and then again today as I read Paul Grahams words.

Do yourself a favor and plan off-grid experiences, your health and sanity will thank you later.

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A Deep Dive Into The Latest Eye-Popping Mobile Trends

Heres a recent article I wrote on the Paypal network titled A Deep Dive into Mary Meeker’s Latest Talk Yields Eye-Popping Mobile Trend.  Below are the mobile trends shaping the next phase of our world I cover in the article.

Smartphone Growth

The first major takeaway from Meeker’s latest talk is the astounding growth yet to be seen in smartphones worldwide. She illustrates the point on the following slide: approximately 953 million out of a total 6.1 billion devices are smartphones. Doing the math, one can see there is only a small portion, about 15% of the worldwide mobile devices, being considered smartphones. To put it bluntly: you are a minority in our world if you have anything more than a feature phone in your hand.

3G Wireless Penetration and Tablets

Another incredible observation involves 3G mobile wireless penetration. At last count, there were a little more than a billion people using 3G mobile wireless connections, again representing just a small fraction of all mobile users around the world.

Augmenting the rise in mobile usage is the adoption of mobile readers and tablets. A chart shows the rise in tablets dating back just a few short years. In Q2 of 2009, roughly 2% of adults owned tablets or eReaders. Comparing that to January 2012, where 29% of adults owned tablets, you start to see the tide rising—and fast.

Mobile Monitization Troubles

In addition to mobile growth, another data point Meeker brings forth is how the sea change of mobile drastically impacts monetization, both online and offline. Take, for instance, the difference between the time people spend using mobile devices versus ad spend on mobile. Time spent on mobile devices each week is estimated at 10% (and growing), yet only about 1% of ad spend is currently focused on mobile. Accordingly, Meeker says it represents a $20 billion+ opportunity in the U.S. alone.

Jon Evans (via TechCrunch) has a great quote:

In 10–20 years’ time, everyone on the planet has a smartphone, and/or some even smaller and more ubiquitous form of wireless access. Indeed, the whole notion of “online” disappears, as the Internet is woven into literally every facet of our waking life. As this happens, what company defines our identity, and becomes the gateway to every activity and every service?

The bigger business opportunity for leveraging the mobile device is to understand all the unique ways it fits into consumers’ daily life, and orient business models around and within those unique use cases. One of the most interesting monetization opportunities mobile presents is to augment the payment experience. From a previous article on mobile payments:

Virtual transactions—making payments without having to swipe, show, or display anything—will transform the payments landscape like never before. Since people carry their mobile devices with them everywhere, it makes the most sense to streamline transactions through the computer in their hands. True authentic mobile payments do not require any hardware outside of the mobile device. With cloud computing and offsite secure services holding payment credentials for every consumer, people can now make simple, quick, and easy mobile payments anywhere. As the consumer, the terminal is now in your hands.

Taking that a step further, the mobile platform is playing an ever-larger part in consumer shopping and buying processes. Even when consumers do not complete transactions via mobile, large numbers of shoppers use their phones to take pictures of potential purchases, access online reviews, compare prices, consult friends and family, locate nearby stores, add items to an online shopping list, or place an order. All of those actions can and will be augmented with business models outside of traditional display advertising.

Those were just a few snippets, go ahead and read the whole thing.

This Slide Shows Exactly Why It’s An Incredible Time To Start A Mobile Company

This is truly an amazing time.  This one slide from a recent Business Insider presentation is the main reason why I started Seconds.  We are seeing a revolution around mobile devices and every industry will experience immense changes, whether they like it or not.  Payments are no exception and it’s going to be a wild ride baby!

Your Life Happens In Seconds (Video)

We live our life as a collection of seconds.  Why should it take any longer to make a purchase or connect with brands we care about?

At Seconds, we built a system to drive secure payments through text messages, allowing someone to quickly make a instant and automatic transaction by simply texting a keyword to a merchant.  Amazingly, it only take a second to send a text message.

Think about it, a merchant can now ping your mobile phone with a message informing you to complete the transaction by simply responding with a specific prompt. How would they know to do that? Your phone number can now become your payment credential, and since they can instantly reach you via short message from pretty much anywhere in the world, payments have no limitations.

Imagine how things will change when we all can interact and transact with any brand in the world in Seconds?

Instagram’s Billion Dollar Idea Wasn’t Photos After All

I wasn’t alone in almost spilling my coffee mid-drink when I discovered Facebook purchased Instagram for $1 billion. Much has been covered on this, including talks of another bubble or irrational exuberance.   A billion?!  As a startup CEO, it’s sometimes hard to grasp how these types of platforms, which openly opine they are not concerned with making money can end up in such a successful outcome.

[So to all the investors out there, I guess we shouldn’t be focused on business models and making money, should we?  I digress…]

Yet the more I thought about the acquisition and the entire startup experience in general, a few lessons came to me that in hindsight are blindly obvious but bear repeating.  As founders, we tend to get lost in our vision.  We tend to over-think and over do our product to the point where our initial value proposition loses it’s inherent value to the market.

What do I mean?  Well, most likely you bloat your product with way too many features.  You also convolute your value proposition based on the latest moves of your competition.  You think if they jab right, you should jab right as well.  You then confuse your users as to why they should be using your product.  This is probably the main reason why your 15 month old startup is not fielding attractive acquisition offers.  It’s because there is no clear place in the market for your company so you just get lost in all the noise.

Instagram didn’t do that.  They kept it simple.  They kept is so simple that I had to write about it since I think most of us don’t realize how powerful a needle point actually is.  Needles cure disease, hoses don’t.

Here’s my view of how Instagram positioned their product for a massive acquisition from Facebook.  All startups, no matter what industry need to keep these principles top of mind if they want a positive business outcome.

Do One Thing World Class

Intagram has been referred to lately as a mobile social network, but in reality they are a much less than that since social networks just collect around specific things.  Instagram chose to focus on photos – and determined to do it world class.  They identified weakness in the current user experience of taking a picture with an iPhone and trying to share that with your friends.  They found the process was way too slow and cumbersome.  They realized the most important thing to people was how quick they could complete the process.  Optimizing how photos were uploaded sped up the process and greatly enhanced the user experience.  Instagram quickly became known as the fastest and easiest way to take and share mobile photos with your friends.

Interestingly, the precursor to Instagram was Burbn, which was what the founders built before changing to “Instagram.” Co-founder Kevin Systrom explains how they launched the service primarily as a checkin, social geo-location app full of hoards of features, on which users could quickly upload photos and share them with friends. (Heres a great interview on the background of Systrom and Instagram)

Burbn had attracted a core following of users, but was not exactly taking off. Upon further evaluation the founders noticed that photo uploading was the strongest and most used feature. Instantly, they cut all other features, kept with uploading photos and moved forward with the newly minted Instagram.

Systrom resisted being all things to all people and in the end sold his 15 month old company for $1 billion.  Think about that  for a second.  By removing most of his product and getting down to the essential, he drastically enhanced its value.

Do you have the stomach to gut your product down to the bare essentials in order to make it more attractive?   You need to find the needle.

Networks of Distribution

The success of any product or service greatly depends on people actually discovering it.  Instagram beautifully leveraged the major distribution networks of today – Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare – to quickly gain user traction.  Take a picture, instantly shoot it out to your friends and followers… People click on it, see Instagram and think “that’s cool, I need to use Instagram.”

You may be thinking this is obvious and being a technology blog most people should understand the concept of leveraging social channels.  Well, this is not about leveraging “social” channels, but rather about finding the appropriate networks of distribution for your specific product or service.  Too many businesses think they need a “viral strategy” when their user experience is far from viral.  Lost in the noise about Twitter and Facebook are all the other options your company may be missing.

Neil Patel does a great job of explaining how to co-brand with a leading brand, illustrating how Spotify jumped onto Facebook and instantly saw millions of new users.  He also says, “besides reaching a wider audience, co-branding your work will also propel your brand faster, double your strength, give you someone to lean on and adds credibility.”  Well said Neil.

What adjacent platforms or companies are sitting there waiting for a strategic partnership with your company?   Are there existing distribution networks already perfectly placed where your user experience will greatly benefit all parties involved?

Aimed Directly at Competition

Systrom and company did something amazing which seems to be overlooked by most startups: find a gaping hole in a major player’s armor and expose it right on their front lawn.  Facebook, being the largest social network and the primary place people connect and share photos with friends, was embarrassing lacking an adequate mobile solution.  They were pretty late to the mobile game and when they showed up, their mobile experience was flat out clunky.

Instagram was built from the ground up as a mobile platform, specifically around photo sharing.  They not only identified there was a hole in the market, but they filled it and shoved it right in the Face of Facebook showing them how much better Instagram was than Facebook at the mobile game.  Zuckerberg knew it the whole time and from what we can read about the situation the latest $50 million raise was the last straw.  He pulled the trigger and bought the company knowing Instagram was a growing problem for them.

Here’s the point:  Don’t go build “another similar product” copying the competition simply because you are lazy and they showed you the market wants what they are offering. The outcome is typically not very good.   Why not study the market, find the hole and then go do that specific thing?  Own that thing.  Be known for that thing.  And do that one thing world class.

Using Instagram as a perfect example, that’s the billion dollar idea.


Should Paying $950 With A Text Be This Easy? (video)

Seconds is the simplest way to pay using a mobile device.

Take paying your rent for instance.  It sucks to have to write a check, get a money order or remember to go online and make a payment.  Even if you use an automatic online rent payment system you might not remember what day it will be taken out of your account, which can be frustrating.

So should paying with a text message be this easy?  In a word – yes.  Life shouldn’t require you to download a specific app or stop by the cash machine to get cash.  Seconds is the simple way for you to make a mobile payment for everyday things.

Watch the video below to get an idea of how fast Seconds payments can be.

1. Type “Pay Rent”

2. Confirm the amount

3. Receive a text stating the completion of your payment.

Imagine what else you can pay for with Seconds.  Imagine your life…. in Seconds.


The Evolution Of Digital Payments Says Anything Made Of Matter Is Toast

The payments landscape is changing almost daily and the overall industry is truly one of the most exciting business studies around.    Payments?  Exciting you say?  Yes, well if you don’t’ think $1 trillion up for grabs in the next 5 years is something to get excited about I would check your pulse.

As an natural observer I tend to look under the hood whenever something unusual is going on, since whenever peculiarity is present change happens.   Curiosity is actually what drove me to start Seconds, my mobile payments company.  It all started with observing how consumers interacted with merchants, repeat interactions in particular.  Isn’t it funny how we go to the same coffee shops, restaurants, retail stores, gas stations, and other everyday activities each day.  In fact, we do this so much the person at the counter who “swipes” your card actually recognizes you and may even know your name.

Although loyalty started my entrepreneurial journey, it did not end there.  I started to think a bit deeper about what usually happens each time you go to the coffee shops, restaurants, retail stores, or gas stations?  You got it – payment!  There it is, the one data point which can trace commercial actions, habits, relationships and trends.  Imagine being able to aggregate and see all those data points in your own life.  Things like where you spend your money, how much, when, buying what and how often.  Now imagine it on a merchant wide level.  How about a worldwide level?  I think you get the gist of where we are going.

This thinking brought me to Seconds, which is the fastest way to transact and interact with merchants.  I believe if you speed up a traditionally laborious process, make it available to the widest range of people possible and emancipate the data to be used in adding value to the system, great things will happen.

During this study it came to my attention how much the payment experience has evolved, and how much more it will change.   Below is a quick discussion on where we have come from and where we are going with digital payments.  You will notice this discussion is all about digital payments, since cash and coin have always been available and will still be around for quite some time.   The current focus is on the digital payment experience and the changes we should expect.

Payments 1.0

When plastic cards came into the market the obvious question became “how do we use these things?”  Naturally, swipe terminals popped up in retail locations everywhere, in addition to such places as gas stations and movie theatres.  Major players like Verifone, WorldPay and others transact billions of dollars each day through proprietary devices which translates information from your plastic card into electronic data and ultimately ending in a transaction.

Important to note is the placement and positioning of the terminal, which can be found on the specific merchant’s counter or apparatus.  Why is this important?  Without the terminal, I cannot pay.  No terminal, no card, no soup for you!  This gave credit card companies and the electronic payments companies a leg up in the economic chain.  But innovation has no master and things quickly change.

Payments 1.5

We are currently seeing new methods of swipe transactions involving the mobile device hit the mass market.  These swipe solutions enable a mobile phone or tablet to become, in essence, the terminal itself.  The terminal has jumped off the merchant’s counter and into their hands with products like Square or PayPal empowering anyone to become a merchant.  All anyone needs is a mobile device, the app, and the swipe dongle attached to the device.  They are now ready to take a card payment.

As amazing as these solutions may be I argue they don’t truly change the payments space, they only augment it.  They allow us to use our credit cards at more places – which depending on who you are that could be good or bad – yet it’s still a credit card.  Some people call this mobile payments but it’s really just a mobile terminal. The requirements of products and devices can be cumbersome and troublesome if lost.  Forward progress?  For sure!  But not truly an innovative new movement which will have landscape shifting effects.

Payments 2.0

True innovation upsets the masses and ultimately establishes a new norm, with new rules and new players.  Virtual transactions – payments made without having to swipe, show or display anything – will transform the payments landscape like no one has ever seen before.  Since people carry their mobile devices with them everywhere, it makes the most sense to streamline transactions through the computer in their hands.  True authentic mobile payments do not require any hardware outside of the mobile device.  With cloud computing and offsite secure services holding payment credentials for every consumer, people now have an ability to make simple, quick and easy mobile payments ANYWHERE.  As the consumer, the terminal is now in your hands.

Platform agnostic solutions will enable any mobile device holder to transact and make a purchase with any merchant or brand connected to the platform.  It shouldn’t require me to have an iPhone, Android or any other specific device.  I don’t’ think “sorry, we only accept iPhones” should replace “sorry, we don’t accept American Express.”  Everyone is created equal and every dollar bill is $1.00, no matter who is holding it.  This principle  should remain the same as we evolve into a purely digital society and work through determining the appropriate payment methods.

And as payments become virtual, platforms such as Dwolla start to make a lot more sense.  If you were a merchant looking to accept mobile payments, which would fee you rather pay – a flat 25 cents or between 2-3% of a transaction?  It’s no contest, Dwolla’s fee structure could put credit card companies directly out of business, unless they bring down their fees to a competitive level.

I have said this before but it bears repeating: what if SMS messaging was not only for communications?  What if, as a very efficient information transport  mechanism organically built into billions of mobile devices around the world, it was used for payments and transactions?  Seconds drives secure payments through text messages, allowing someone to quickly make a instant and automatic transaction by simply texting a keyword to a merchant.   Conversely, a merchant can ping your mobile phone with a message to complete the transaction by simply responding with a specific prompt.  How did they know to do that?  Your phone number has now become your payment credential, and interestingly enough they can instantly reach you via short message from pretty much anywhere in the world.  Imagine how things will change when we all can interact and transact with any brand in the world in Seconds?

I am not sure how much quicker we can make things but a second is pretty damn quick.