Business moats, Visualizing time, Asimov on Creativity, B Corps

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Happy weekend, during the last two weeks, I was a bit busy with personal commitments, plus that I was busy working on some of my other projects. Two weeks ago, I was taking a writing class (gifted to me by my wife), following that, I started investing more time into writing, just for fun, and for the sake of clearing my mind. Generally, writing seems to help me understand myself better. I can even claim that it’s a meditative exercise. 

A few days ago, I decided to publish one of my short reflective stories; it was about my childhood memories as a young boy in Egypt going out every morning to buy fresh bread and falafel for breakfast. I have received very positive feedback from my network. So I will try to publish more of these short stories in the future. Check it out and let me know if you liked it.


 Table of contents:

  1. Moats and defensibility for startups
  2. Visualizing time
  3. There is more to life than profit
  4. Isaac Asimov’s “On Creativity”
  5. Yuri Veerman’s Art

1. Moats and defensibility for startups

Recently, the topic of business moats and defensibility came up during one of my product management mentoring sessions. The question was, how do startups define their moats? 

The question reminded me of this article by Jerry Neumann. If you’re not familiar with this term, a moat is whatever tactic or tool a business can use to stop the competition from eating its market share. 

A lot of VCs like to talk about the importance of moats, but if you try to look around for startups that have strong moats, you will find it hard to name many. The reality is that most startups start as a very fragile organization with some idea about a problem they can solve for some market segment. The only way for that startup to survive is to move fast to acquire more customers and delay any confrontation with the bigger company until the startup is strong enough to withstand a direct fight. That’s exactly what Clayton Christensen described in his book, The Innovator’s Dilemma. 

Delaying the confrontation can be done by either choosing to start focusing on a niche market segment that the big competitor doesn’t pay much attention to (at least on the short term), or by trying to focus on a different geographic market. If the startup and the incumbent are both operating in isolated bubbles that never cross, the startup will have a better chance to grow its muscles without interruption. 

Most moats are a side effect of being a bigger, stronger company with more cash reserves, more powerful relationships, and more human resources. So a startup should focus first on defining the maneuvering strategy that can help it acquire more cash, and more customers, before worrying about all other kinds of moats. For a list of all possible moats, check Newmann’s article.


2. Visualizing time

Time is precious, we all know that, but maybe you never tried to visualize it, or look at it in this way. This blog post from Wait But Why blew my mind. It was published in 2015, but its content will be forever green. Tim Urban (the author) shared some visualizations and simple math about the average human life, not measuring life by years, but by events, memories, and experiences. If you live till you’re 90, how many more tacos would you be able to eat? How many family trips would you be able to have with your parents or with your kids? How many more books would you be able to read? 

This logic is a great way to keep us aware of how finite our time is and how careful we should be when defining our life priorities.


3. There is more to life than profit

I came across this podcast interview with Yancey Strickler, the co-founder and former CEO of Kickstarter. If you don’t know, sometime in 2015, Kickstarter switched its business entity structure from being a C Corp (Inc) to being a Public Benefit Corporation (PBC). During the interview, Yancey talked about what does that mean, and why it was necessary. 

I was surprised then to learn that C Corps are legally required to mainly and only maximize the value for their shareholders regardless of any negative impact on society or the environment. The law gives shareholders the right to sue the C Corp if it decides to take any action that serves the community or the environment at the expense of profits. That’s why Kickstarter and many other companies decided to register their organizations as a PBC/B Corp. A Public Benefit Corp is a new kind of business structure that grants businesses the freedom to be both focused on profit and the public good at the same time. 

That structure doesn’t only provide legal protection for the business, but it also creates the kind of internal culture that has its priorities and values clear to everyone. It’s a good interview, listen to it, you will learn about why we need more companies that set delivering a positive social impact as one of their top priorities, and really mean it.  


4. Isaac Asimov’s “On Creativity”

I was having a discussion recently about creativity, and it reminded me of this essay by Isaac Asimov, the great science fiction writer. In this essay, he put his thoughts about how to get the best ideas out of people. First, you need the right people, the ones that can make connections between two or more different topics. Second, you need to give them time to think about the problem in isolation. Third, you need to provide them with a safe space where they can share their thoughts with each other. 

Asimov’s approach is very different from how most organizations run their creativity/brainstorming sessions. Maybe more of us should adopt Asimov’s approach and document the experience. 


5. Yuri Veerman’s Art

I can’t claim that I’m a big follower of the Art scene, but my wife showed me this website of the Dutch artist Yuri Veerman, and I found many of his art projects interesting. The kind I wish I would have worked on myself. His Koppie Koppie project was a website that sold coffee mugs with prints of photos of random babies and children found on the internet. It was an awareness campaign about privacy and the risks of putting your children’s photos online. Putin a Rainbow is another one that makes fun of Putin’s anti-gay policy and his strange banning of rainbows in Russia. There are many other projects that you can check out on his website.


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Till next time,
Shreef