Killer Design

Killer Design

What comes to mind when you think of possible consequences of bad design? Of a badly designed product or service? You might think the product generates less revenues. Or a rise in the number of product returns, and unhappy, angry or disappointed customers. Right?

But what about death? Of animals? Or worse, death of children?

In my book, I discussed IKEA‘s water dispensers for pets that were resulting in pet deaths. Why did that happen? Possibly because wizards on the IKEA product design team were lazy enough to use stuffed animals instead of real ones to test their design.

Think that’s bad? Enter IKEA (again!).

This time, for their dressers (a chest of drawers). Around 2016 and 2017, about 8 children (hopefully not more) died, thanks to IKEA dressers. The dressers designed in such a way, that when young children would open them and perhaps lean on to the drawer, they would tip over, crushing or badly injuring the kid.

Image: source

The company had to recall over 29 million dressers! It recently launched a new line of dressers that had finally solved the ‘tipping over’ problem by preventing more than one drawer from being left open at a time.

Now, what is worse than a poorly designed product?

When the company cuts corners, misleads, and denies they have a bad or flawed product.

That is where American toy manufacturing giant Mattel‘s subsidiary company Fisher-Price comes in. In 2009, Fisher-Price launched a product that would be a runaway success – their Rock-n-Play inclined sleeper for babies.

Image: source

Fisher-Price sold over 4.7 million of their inclined sleepers to parents, who probably thought it to be a boon to take away the agony of putting their baby to sleep. Based on some information about how children sleep better when held at an angle, they built the Rock-n-Play.

Instead of first conducting clinical research to validate the design, all Fisher-Price did was consult one family physician in all. One!

Eight years after its launch, following a lawsuit, Fisher-Price consulted a paediatrician about their product for the first time. Because of the lawsuit. The result of this callous approach to the design of a product for none other than infants, who require constant attention and utmost care, was the unfortunate death of over 35 babies!

One argument is that countries like the US don’t rely enough on regulators to endure product safety. And you might agree, especially in the case of smaller companies perhaps replicating a successful product.

But that can never be the excuse even for a moment for a now 89-year old company, Fisher-Price. The gross negligence in research, design and development of a product that could present potential risk of death.

Never stop when you think you’ve found what looks like a perfect solution. Especially when lives might depend on it.

If you own, manage or work at a company, and are grappling with a complex challenge or are in need of innovation for growth, get in touch. More here.

And you might find my book, ‘Design the Future’ interesting. It demystifies the mindset of Design Thinking. Ebook’s on Amazon, and paperbacks at leading online bookstores including Amazon &Flipkart.

The Mortal Risk of Riding Shotgun in an Autonomous Vehicle

The Mortal Risk of Riding Shotgun in an Autonomous Vehicle

Source: link

We live in strange times. And in interesting and amusing times.

A recent article I read, spoke about how most automotive manufacturers are misleading (or are confused themselves), when they claim to offer autonomous driving features in their vehicles.

Their mindset seems hugely flawed, if not shocking. Article here

Don Norman could have a field day ripping this mindset apart.

I have heard numerous stories since when I was a teen. Of people falling off to sleep while driving to or from work in the US. It never made sense to me. However, in the years since, I have seen and personally known fatigue while driving.

I worked in Pune in the manufacturing sector for a year and half. Work largely involved workday trips to relatively far off industrial sectors and every other weekend trips back home, I was mostly driving alone.

Then there were outstation trips, where I would leave early one morning, pick up one or two colleagues, and drive to another city, attend meetings at companies spread across a large industrial sector. The next few days would involve more meetings all day, before either driving back to Pune. Or driving to the next city for an encore. In all, over 33,000 km in under 18 months.

What auto manufacturers apparently offer with autonomous driving, is different versions of driving systems that take care of driving for you. It could be identifying and staying within lanes, measuring vehicular distance and safe braking, and using GPS to drive you to your destination.

You would assume you could completely disconnect and do your thing, as your car takes you places. However, auto manufacturers still expect you to be as alert as if you were driving, in case a sudden manual intervention is needed.

That expectation of theirs is absurd at best.

Humans are either engaged or not. Or as my Statistics professor would often quote the popular idiom, ‘she’s either pregnant or not, there is no somewhat pregnant’.

If you have someone drive a car, you can hope they are awake and alert. And yet there’s no guarantee, proof being the numerous accidents that occur due to distracted driving.

But the moment you are not driving, your brain switches off, or switches to something else. Unless you are a professional rally car navigator, or in the armed forces.

On most long distance drives, be it with friends, family or work colleagues, the person in the passenger seat eventually nods off, and I’m almost certain it is not because of the company.

So, expecting someone not to drive, but have the alertness and rapid response times of someone who is, is asking for a lot!

Of course, the biggest reason for this expectation is not so much the flaws in technology, but rather human behaviour again. Many autonomous vehicle accidents are due to unanticipated human errors – be it pedestrians or other human-driven vehicles.

So the effort should be on improving that unpredictability in erratic human driving, before rolling out technology that could potentially cause fatal harm to customers who come with a very different expectation of the technology than what the manufacturer offers them.

Look at the quality revolution and process improvement. They took industry by storm several decades ago. And their impact on our machines and automated processes is unquestionable. But are we humans more efficient today, or are we far more distracted and poor managers of our time than we were? Phones, entertainment and noise to blame.

Maybe manufacturers are explaining the gaps in tech to customers before the purchase. Maybe even spelling out the risks and precautions to them. But there’s only so much you can change human behaviour in short periods of time.

And finally, it was amusing how this potentially life-threatening flaw got reported.
The article was titled, “..a UX risk!”
Why dilute a crucial message?
It’s a f@€k!^¢ risk to life! Far more than a risk to the customer experience.
Can’t have a bad experience if you’re dead. Why not highlight that?

If you own, manage or work at a company, and are grappling with a complex challenge or are in need of innovation for growth, get in touch. More here.

And you might find my book, ‘Design the Future’ interesting. It demystifies the mindset of Design Thinking. Ebook’s on Amazon, and paperbacks at leading online bookstores including Amazon &Flipkart.

Context

One of the fundamental ingredients of an impactful innovation or successful design thinking exercise, is empathy. The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

Often, in our enthusiasm to create something someone (a customer segment, employees, or even society), or to solve a problem for them, we tend to knowingly or unknowingly speed up the process. We skip the part of trying to understand the problem or the cause of it. Or the unexpressed need. We create, and we expect (or at least hope for) delight from those receiving our innovations or solutions.

This simple image I came across online gives great context to our urgency to solve problems or innovate. An infant is too young to realize or even see clearly, the flaw in this. If a simple flaw like this could be missed by most of us, what else might we be missing? How little effort are we taking to look at business innovation or problem-solving from the right ‘context’?

Source: link

Small efforts in understanding customer needs, go a long way. Apart from feeling appreciated and important, customers help us get closer to innovative solutions they are willing to pay for. The least we can do is look at their needs and problems from their perspective.

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If you run or manage a business, and innovation, strategy, problem-solving, customer experience or ideation are areas of interest, there are a few ways I can help. More about it here.

My book, ‘Design the Future’ is available as an Ebook on Amazon & Kobo, and as paperbacks across leading online bookstores including Amazon & Flipkart. Look forward to your review on Amazon once you’ve read it.

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Dr. John Virapen on the Greed of Pharmaceutical Companies

Dr. John Virapen on the Greed of Pharmaceutical Companies

Sometimes when you think about one particular country or another, and admire it for a great government, a transparent press, a robust healthcare ecosystem, and so on. Or when you believe the doctor when he tells you your child has an attention-deficit disorder, as he or she prescribes medication for it. Or when the little discomfort you went to the doctor with, suddenly transformed into something lethal-sounding. And urgently needing surgery. Let’s not always be so trusting and naive.

Here’s a talk by ex-Director of pharmaceutical major Eli Lilly. The global company ranks 132nd on the Fortune 500 list, with a 2017 topline of USD 22.87 billion. Late ex-director of the company, Dr. John Virapen, worked over 35 years in the pharmaceutical industry, climbing from a sales executive to becoming director. And as he climbed the corporate ladder, he realized, and even participated in the dirt his company was involved in. Bribing governments and media houses, the pharma industry is in a dirty loop to make people sick and then treat them.

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The pros and “Cons” of Storytelling

The pros and “Cons” of Storytelling!

Storytelling. Steve Jobs wasn’t the first to talk about, or practice it. Nor was he the first one to focus on the customer and build differentiation. Function and form. And he wasn’t the first to capture customer personalities, traits and passions in their marketing and communication, instead of just reading a dull list of product features. but he is probably the most famous or identified storyteller ever.

Storytelling predates writing. Its earliest forms were expressed orally, accompanied by expressions and gestures.

The world has come a long way since Jobs’ famous 1997 address and introduction to the ‘Think Different’ campaign. We increasingly appreciate being told stories. By companies and their advertisers, by friends and colleagues, and gurus – be it religious or management. We prefer stories to reading out technical specifications and product features, or trying to grasp complex situations or concepts.

And not surprisingly so. We are emotional beings after all, not logic machines. We give priority to emotions over even compelling factual information and the most compelling of logic. Unfortunately for us, not all those stories we believe, spring from a clean motive.

Companies, politicians and a lot of people in-between have become professionals at storytelling. And when the motive is not backed by good intentions, all it takes, is finding out the audience’s buttons. Accordingly, out comes a relevant, sometimes conveniently modified story that has the resultant effect.

A lot of companies are spending progressively higher on marketing and image and positioning of products. Lesser and lesser on the product itself, let alone the customer experience. Same goes for services. And politicians.

Hype, buzzwords and deception. Many businesses have become like the average Bollywood movie. No plot, cast includes famous or artificially created superstars, but a ton of money kept for promotion. Create enough hype, cash out with a good profit in 1 week, and move onto the next shoddy project. The same words that once formed a bridge between great products and services to customers by way of storytelling, have now been degraded to spinning yarn to maximize revenues while the going’s still good.

To show you the power of words, here’s a “story” from the early years of my consulting practice days. Each project I choose to work on is holy to me. And apart from sometimes being ruthless with my views, I am equally critical about evaluating my own work. However, on occasion, for the fun of it, I’d send out feedback questionnaires at the end of assignments to clients. Requesting feedback on their view of the quality of the work done.

Now for the fun of it, if I wanted scores in a particular range, say between 4-5, I would word the question accordingly. Similarly, if I wanted ratings for a particular question in the range of 2-3, all that was needed was framing the question differently. It would nudge someone in a particular way. What it showed, was that simple words can influence what should ideally be the unbiased feedback of a client.

A tiny part of my mission through my consulting practice, is to try to prevent clients from falling into such traps by either wrongly reading their customer perceptions, or by unintentionally or otherwise adding their biases to their customer feedback. Or even to their assessment of their own performance. Even though I used to send such questionnaires for the heck of it, I could see how client feedback would be influenced by the words. Now since I do not disclose client names as policy, or come out with any client satisfaction statistics reports, there is no way I could leverage such feedback even if I was the kind that would. But there are many companies that can and do.

Let’s say the unbiased review of a product is average. However, with the right words, ratings can be pushed above average. This would reflect back on feedback statistics, in turn generating more trust and revenues. The cycle goes on.

Storytelling and anecdotes serve the purpose of almost instantly explaining even more complex concepts or situations. However, recipients of these stories often tend to take the story and the correlation at face-value. And they possibly even cement their impressions and views about a situation. What they should do instead, is use a combination of listening and sufficient questioning. Only then should they form their own views on the matter.

What happens when you only listen to a story without thinking much about it? The story always comes from a fellow human. And humans are a complex being full of custom biases. What’s worse, you never know when someone’s running an agenda of their own. Which means their selection of stories will depict only one side of a story. And stories tweaked enough to evoke the right emotions for the naive mind to believe easily.

As a result, country leaders can convince their people to go to war against a country for no logical reason. Hey, the story sounded compelling enough. It wouldn’t happen overnight, but it happens eventually. And people who have who have lived for generations with neighbours of a different faith suddenly suspicious of them. They begin to believe people they have never met. They believe biased stories, and marginalize generations worth of trust as a result.

From a business point of view, storytelling is an integral part of a successful business. But not without an even greater underlying foundation of offerings. Storytelling is only a bridge, not a destination. Companies should not be working on becoming increasingly manipulative towards their customers. They should be working on becoming increasingly transparent to them.

Below is a great talk by Mohammed Qahtani about the power of words.

Many of us can Think Different. Why not try to Be Different Too?

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Gucci’s Packaging – Not so Gucci

Gucci’s Packaging – Not so Gucci

I recently conducted an interactive session on Design Thinking at a leading investment bank. It might be easy to assume that applications of design thinking at an investment bank are limited. It is quite the opposite though. And the applicable scope of design thinking just seems to grow bigger with each passing day. The team was also kind enough to present me with a thoughtful gift at the end of the session. A Gucci tie.

Now, once you’re in the design thinking fold, you are always processing and assessing products and services. As you might have noticed, the tip of the tie is a little crumpled. If I was the manufacturer of ties that retailed at anything between $60-240 or more, I would have been concerned about the experience a customer goes through of opening the packaging and seeing the product as well.

The tie came in a tall box which was in a slightly taller paper bag, fastened with an embossed ribbon. When you hold the bag upright however, the tie drops inside thanks to that often-neglected phenomena called gravity. This causes creases at the tip of the tie. Now while many might tell you it is ok to iron a tie, it is not something I’d recommended you did often. And certainly not something you would want to do with a brand new tie.

While there might be several ways to package it in a way that leaves an impression with the customer, it isn’t something I’ll spend time thinking of right now. The easy way for Gucci to solve this problem, would be by merely placing a card paper insert which is fixed to the sides of the box. It would hold the tie in place at the top, like a clothes hanger. That way, the tip of the tie would never touch the bottom of the box when held upright.

Little things go a long way in improving how customers interact with your product. And how they remember it.

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Airline Seats and Behaviour

Airline Seats and Behaviour

Do you think those extremely uncomfortable airline seats have anything to do with our behaviour when we are flying?

Remember the last flight you took. Unless you were traveling business or first class, you can’t forget the tiny seats. And the armrests, that always seem to have gotten closer from the last time you flew. To the point your brain is rapidly calculating if this justifies engaging the claustrophobia-induced panic mode. But ever wondered why the backrests almost seem to cave in, making you hunch over?

If you considered it from an airline business point of view, all of it together would make sense. The tiny seats crammed together, with curved backrests. Maximizing the limited space inside the aircraft to fit the most number of seats. While pushing the average, overfed human into the most constricted position he or she could get into.

But there might be another reason for the curved backrests. It is possible, that they alter your behviour just sufficiently, for the duration of the flight. How?

Someone of average height sitting in the seat, has their back hunched slightly, shoulders rolled in, and head bent slightly forward. While this causes a certain level of irritation and discomfort, it also makes one feel a little less powerful, or less in control. Which means you look up from an almost servile position, at the airline staff that caters to you.

The advantage of this for the airline. Less chances of boisterous passengers being their usual self. Less tendencies of people becoming confrontative with the crew or fellow passengers, and a reduced tendency to interact with anyone apart from those seated beside you, which means lesser chatter and noise in the aircraft.

The opposite of this posture, would be what social psychologist Amy Cuddy would call the ‘power posing’. It is a posture that she claims, induces positive hormonal and behavioural changes in the person. The hypothesis has been discredited since. With scholars claiming to have failed to recreate its effects in follow-up studies. However, I’m with her on the soundness of the theory. While a pose or posture might not consistently bring about a desired effect in others, it still has considerable effect on the individual themselves. Confidence, overconfidence, anger, aggression, composure, and possibly even openness (or not) to others views. I believe these factors get altered, depending on the posture or pose.

And therefore, perhaps either by design or unintentionally, airline seats seem to be the way they are. Perhaps not intended for discomfort, but maybe towards a greater outcome –  a plane full of composed and manageable fliers.

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The Non-Financial Side of Business

The Non-Financial Side of Business
A call with an industry colleague last week set in motion, thoughts on how we measure individual or business success.
As a kid growing up in India in the 80’s, studies used to be quite a tricky part of life. Studying history, for instance. We had a ton of dates to remember, and it somehow never made sense. The pointlessness of remembering precise dates of events ranging from a few decades to a few centuries gone by. Instead of, perhaps evaluating people gone by, on the basis of their actions, or the sum of their actions. Perhaps we would have learnt more about values. About actions and consequences. But they would not have it any other way. Events and dates of their occurrence was clearly more important to them.
Then came interesting subjects like physics, and a few deeper questions around it. [Link]
Subsequently, there was the ’Must. Read. Newspapers’ phase. Not just that, I guess people also expected you to remember current events. For someone who is not a keen quiz player, I felt it was pointless beyond just having a fair sense of what was happening. Somewhere I believed storing irrelevant information wouldn’t really matter someday.
Then, thankfully, the internet came to our rescue.
In my adult life, all around, businesses seem obsessed with numbers. Financials. Be it sales and profitability, or costs, or more complicated ones. Cost of acquiring a customer. Shopping cart abandonment. Customer churn rate. Average profit per visitor or Product conversion rate. Among others.
The world became, and continues to be increasingly obsessed with numbers and ratios. And that’s all most businesses focus on. The employee or customer can be at the receiving end of the bare minimum that a tight-margin allowance to appease a ratio will allow. But not more.
The day machines take over a business function, efficiency will jump up dramatically, as will profitability.
But where would that leave us? Put differently, have we always been missing a bigger point?
What will matter when machines take over (finally!), is what customers really want. Because then we won’t be obsessing over the numbers. Hopefully not at least.
And hopefully then, we’ll start to see that it is not a numbers game. That business is about relevance. If it’s useful or good, they will buy. If a process is well designed as per them, they will use it.
Numbers, as I’ve always held, are an incidental, intermittent aftereffect of a non-numerical, ongoing end-user pleasing process.
I’m not saying that top and bottom lines and all those in-between are irrelevant. Sure they help as indicators. But they perhaps help more when we are doing the more important job. Of ensuring the main objective of our business is met. Once you focus on the non-financial aspects that really run your business, you’ll see how the financials catch up. Automatically!

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Why Design Thinking is Here to Stay

Why Design Thinking is Here to Stay

A close friend recently shared this article titled ‘Why Design Thinking will fail’, written in 2013 by Jeffrey Tjendra. Jeffrey is a designer entrepreneur and strategist. Among some of us friends, there was were points of disagreement on the article. Jeffrey does seem to have a good understanding of design thinking. This post, however, is an effort towards taking a closer look at each point mentioned there. And to see if it makes sense or not. All of this, with my limited but growing knowledge of design thinking.

Before I begin, here’s a quote by Mara Wilson. While her quote describes storytelling, I believe it offers a more far reaching explanation. With products and services too, for instance. She said, “The more specific you get, the more universal it is. (It’s a special alchemy of storytelling).” – Mara Wilson

Back to the article, here goes:

  1. Misperception of Meaning – I’ll agree, it can be misleading to some. I use either ‘human-centered’ or ‘user-centered’ design thinking in an attempt to bring a little more clarity, especially when interacting with people I believe might misinterpret the meaning.
  2. Loss of Meaning – Can’t do much about that. A lot of effective methodologies often see phases of hype and a lot of randomness being packaged and sold in its name. But as the dust settles, only the real stuff and an increased respect remains.
  3. Misunderstanding and Not Accepting Creative Elements – True. However, any company or more specifically, a management that has ever worked on any form of creativity or innovation, knows how boring, full of trials and iterations, full of mess and uncertainty it can be. Look at your kid’s school projects for instance. If it isn’t too simple, it is bound to take a lot of ‘random’, before it starts to make sense. Anyone who doesn’t understand that, will surely not use design thinking. And that’s alright.
  4. Lack of Business Elements – Coming from a management and finance background, with experience in strategy and marketing, I tend to build those critical business aspects to a design thinking project. And that is especially why the design thinking team needs to have a wide-enough assortment of skillsets. Using only UI/UX people or ethnographers or psychologists is not going to do the trick.
  5. Language and Perspective Barriers – There have been worse instances of communication gaps. For instance, if you have heard the almost unbelievable and heroic story of the Gimli Glider. An obvious technical specification got so conveniently ignored, that it put at risk, 69 occupants aboard a Boeing 767. Read the fascinating story! So, it just boils down to the intention and seriousness of the parties involved. Nothing is foolproof or idiot-proof. But a lot of change and innovation can be brought about with the right intentions. And no amount of left-brain learning and practice can fix unpredictable situations either. Because a lot of left-brain thinkers often learn a process from end to end. Any deviation could potentially leave them baffled. Creative thinking, on the other hand, helps one focus on the fundamentals. On understanding the building blocks more and more. And then, irrespective of situations or deviations to them, there is often more clarity as the building blocks can be used to better understand complexity. And it’s often easier to communicate fundamental building blocks across language barriers, as opposed to communicating complexity to begin with.
  6. Missing Future – Even design thinking veterans like IDEO have made mistakes, overestimating future demand of tech products. A strong problem or opportunity statement (which is open to being updated when you learn more about the end-user) helps reduce the risk. As does an unbiased and strong mechanism to interact with, and observe and understand needs, behaviours and desires of end-users, and capture that information towards building a solution.
  7. Wrong Implementation of Process – Which is why a lot of products and ingredients come with ‘Instructions to Use’. If an ingredient needs to be mixed and cooked, simply sprinkling it will not help.
  8. Poor Direction Scoping – This is where an intention and objective to start with, matters. There are billions of people, billions of problems and billions more opportunities. Which one or ones do you want to target. That’s what you pursue. Ignore everything else.
  9. Co-creation at the End of Process – all I’ll say is, phone sex doesn’t help create babies.
  10. Misconception of Approach to Creativity – This is true. Some people would tend to follow the design thinking process like it is a treasure map, when in fact, it is navigating your way through hostile jungle. Your senses need to be on alert all the time. Any input can change a lot of initial assumptions. That lions don’t climb trees. Or that chimps tend to rely on third party to help resolve disputes.
  11. Wishful Thinking for Culture of Innovation – Completely agree here. Which is why, a startup whose founders have the right values and give importance to innovation, can build it better into their culture, as opposed to trying to inject it into a global behemoth that has a century of history.
  12. The End Process is not the End – true – design teams, just like any other specialty teams, need to walk the talk. Leaving projects with solution advice that is abstract to clients, won’t serve anyone’s purpose. A lot of large consulting firms were infamous for doing this back in the day. Leaving clients many million dollars poorer, and with a big “report” that the client was clueless what to do with.
  13. Risk of Stagnancy – As Zig Ziglar said, “People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.”

Thoughts?

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What’s Your Profession? Did You Bring More Soldiers?

What’s Your Profession? Did You Bring More Soldiers?

In 1970s, according to the TV series Mindhunter at least, the FBI was filled with accountants & lawyers instead of more relevant experts in areas that mattered. That is, in place of behavioral analysts.

That seems to have been the case with the Indian Venture Capital industry too for some time now. They’ve strangely been recruiting a concerningly high number of Finance and CA folk. Instead of hiring more right-brained folk who can understand customer needs, likes, dislikes, and the customer experience. Those who can appreciate an entrepreneur’s vision and passion, and perhaps the grueling journey she or he has been through to get there.

Numbers don’t build businesses. They’re the result of it.

If the venture capital sector doesn’t have enough people who can understand a customer’s journey, an entrepreneur drive and vision, among other non-numerical things, just processing numbers will only make so much of a superficial impact. And bring so much of a multiple-x return on investment.

Look at the Indian funded startup space for instance. It even makes one wonder if many of our entrepreneurs possess the vision and passion. Perhaps how Flipkart is try to go after numbers, while Amazon is increasingly trying to improve the customer experience. Or how and why Uber might have logically entered the food delivery space? And more importantly, why did Ola (I hope I’m wrong!) seem to acquire Foodpanda in a knee-jerk reaction to Uber? Or how, while in India we still get mobile phones and media content literally on the same day as any developed country. When it comes to business inclination to improve the customer experience though, we get by with the bare minimum. Why?

Why can’t investors identify truly driven entrepreneurs and be able to align with the entrepreneur’s vision to create an impact? Does pushing an entrepreneur into super minority stake keep them sufficiently invested in the big plan? And is it possible for the overpaid founder of a funded startup with multiple investments of his or her own in other startups, early in his or her own startup journey, to create what people call a unicorn?

Focus! Focus! You need the right people, adequately motivated, to do one job! And to do it right!

Reminds me of a scene from the movie 300. When Daxos and his army meets Leonidas and his brave 300. Have a look!

Maybe there’s a difference between saying ‘customer service’ and doing what is necessary to delight?

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