Hi Friends 👋,
Happy Monday! It’s going to be a spooktacular week. 👻
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Know Thine Loop
Know Thine Loop
Kevin Kwok is on the shortlist of people who write infrequently enough and with so much quality information density that I’ll share everything they write. His latest, Notes on Superhuman’s Acquisition Loops, sounds dry and technical, but it’s packed with wisdom nuggets.
To understand why, we need to start by defining Superhuman’s strategy as simply and succinctly as possible: Prime people to want to use Superhuman, then delight fervent users so that they refer more users.
According to Kwok, everything that Superhuman does is in service of this strategy. Its actions are linked. When the loop works, it works really well, in a way that can't be easily copied by mimicking one or two tactics.
This is what I love about Kwok's writing: whereas most people have tried to cherry-pick lessons from Superhuman (examples here and in the thousands of results here), he examines their discrete actions in the context of a larger loop.
He points out that, “All companies want to delight the users who would be most disappointed to lose the product, but this often comes at tradeoffs with other priorities.” Cherry-picking tactics without making the necessary tradeoffs is useless and potentially harmful. Take, for example, Superhuman’s onboarding.
Superhuman pays a human being to spend at least 30 minutes onboarding every single person who signs up for the product, which creates additional cost for Superhuman and additional friction for the customer trying to sign up. Because the onboarding fits into Superhuman's loop - it creates delight, which causes people to talk about Superhuman, and teaches people to use the product, which creates fervent users, who...talk about Superhuman - it makes sense for them to do. Because Superhuman has shown early success, people think that they can also be successful if they provide white glove onboarding.
But trying to duplicate Superhuman's success by implementing a similar onboarding process without replicating its $0 CAC or reliance on evangelists would be like trying to become Walmart by underpricing all of your competitors without having built Walmart's scale and supply chain. Both will both wreck your unit economics and could kill your business.
Copying part of a strategy is dumb and lazy. I think this is why Web Smith wrote, in The DTC Playbook is a Trap:
There is no playbook. DNVB growth must be a malleable and agile operation. Brands must find opportunities where there were none. They must seek to do what hasn’t yet been done.
I’m going to write more about the importance of differentiation - doing things and building loops that only you or your company can do - over the coming weeks and months. For now, my takeaway from Kwok’s note is:
Don't steal tactics blindly; know thine loop.
Introducing a new segment: Product of the Week. May just be this week, may be ongoing.
This week’s P.O.T.W. is Otis, which allows its members to buy fractional shares of cultural assets like art, sneakers, and comic books for as little as $25.
Last week, it dropped its first asset: Saint Jerome Hearing the Trumpet of the Last Judgment by Kehinde Wiley. If that name sounds familiar, that’s because Wiley painted President Obama’s official portrait.
Since the assets that Otis sells are owned by a group of retail investors, not one particular person, Otis acts as their custodian. Which means that they’re able to display them for the public to see, which they did in the East Village yesterday. I went to check it out.
I’m not an art person or a collectibles person. But seeing the pieces IRL while knowing that I could own a piece of them gave it a different vibe than going to an art museum. I could see myself owning a little piece of a KAWS painting, Jeff Staple’s SB Dunks Collection, Nike Air Mags like the ones in Back to the Future, or the Takahashi Murakami x Virgil Abloh collaboration.
Otis is part of a growing number of companies taking advantage of Reg A+ from the JOBS Act, which enables private growth-stage companies to raise money from all Americans, not just accredited investors. Others include Rally Rd., which lets you own a fractional share of classic cars, and StockX, recently valued over $1 billion, which has created a stock exchange for sneakers.
What I love most about all three companies is that they lean into the nature of the products they list by creating IRL experiences (Soho is the epicenter) that match their brand and their target customer. They’re building an online-offline loop.
Kwok wrote that “Social capital–not personal utility–is what drives Superhuman’s acquisition loop. Users don’t share Superhuman because they need others to use it for it to work; they share it because they want to.”
Otis, Rally Rd., and StockX are creating a new asset class, and they need to lean into the social capital generated by the early adopters showing off the cool thing they just bought in order to make investing in art, sneakers, and exotic cars more mainstream. Expensive investments like retail space in Soho fit into that loop because they reward early adopters with a place to show off the cool thing they bought, and build trust with potential new investors in a way that only IRL can.
Links & Listens
🤖 Eliminating the Human by David Byrne in the MIT Technology Review
When I wrote about the role that technology is playing in making us lonelier and less happy, I assumed that making us interact with each other less was an unintended consequence of progress. Byrne isn’t so forgiving. He argues “that much recent tech development and innovation over the last decade or so has an unspoken overarching agenda. It has been about creating the possibility of a world with less human interaction.” It’s a bold claim, which he explains by pointing out that technology is built by male engineers, who are, as a group, loners who would seek to minimize human interaction.
We evolved as social creatures, and our ability to interact is one of the main reasons for our success. “If less human interaction enables us to forget how to cooperate,” Byrne suggests, “then we lose our advantage.”
The silver lining? We’ve eliminated things like going to the grocery store and standing in bank lines, freeing up time for more fulfilling human interaction if we let it.
⌚️ The 2010s Broke Our Sense of Time by Katherine Miller in BuzzFeed News
This piece opens in one of my favorite places in the world: that great melting pot of a cobblestone street where tourists from all over the world to take a picture with the second best bridge within a mile, the Manhattan Bridge. Like this 👇🏻👇🏻👇🏻.
“That’s a fine shot!” one bridesmaid lovingly called to a bride — who stood without the bridge in the background. “That’s a fine shot!”
We’ve spent the past decade - the decade that brought us Instagram, WhatsApp, binge watching Netflix, constant news alerts, and President Trump - in a new, disorienting relationship with time. Miller compares it to a Black Mirror episode. Yet another reason to pull our heads out of our phones and reconnect IRL.
👨🏻🔬The Comforting Pseudoscience of the MBTI by Anne-Laure Le Cunff of Ness Labs
Last week, we debunked the Stanford Prison Experiment. It’s a famous experiment and you’ve probably heard of it, but you’ve almost certainly never applied it to learn more about yourself. So this week, let’s get personal: The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.
If you’ve worked, you’ve probably taken the MBTI at some point. I’ve taken it double-digit times. (I just took it again here and got INFP, but I’ve gotten ENTJ, ENTP, and INFJ before, so who knows!) But guess what? Turns out the MBTI is bullshit, too.
Le Cunff breaks down the MBTI’s history and why the test doesn’t hold wanter. She also introduces a phenomenon that helps to understand why we all believe our MBTI results (and horoscopes, and palm readings), despite their unreliability: The Barnum Effect.
“The Barnum Effect is the phenomenon that occurs when individuals believe that personality descriptions apply specifically to them, despite the fact that the description is actually filled with information that applies to everyone.”
As an alternative, I recommend the Enneagram Test, which I recently took and applied with my coach. It was eerily accurate, and not just in a Barnum Effect kind of way.
Last week was jam-packed with IRL Member Community exploration. I visited Union Social Club in Durham (pic below), met with a founder who’s getting ready to launch an IRL Member Community with an important twist in SF, went to the first OnDeck Fellowship dinner in NYC, and got off the Lunchclub waitlist (you can sign up here).
This week, I’m continuing to explore spaces and meet people. If there’s a place you think I should check out or a person I should meet, let me know!
Finally, we’re circling in on a date for Debate Club Part Deux in mid-November. New people, new rules, same nerdy fun - sign up here to join us.
Thanks for reading!