2020 Opendoor Layoffs

Yesterday was such a painful day. Opendoor, where I worked for three years, had to lay-off more than 35% of their workforce. Even though I left a few months ago, the pain felt very real. To try and help, I started a spreadsheet for the folks who were impacted to find their next home faster. If you’re hiring, I’d highly recommend reaching out to folks on that list – Opendoor was a talent magnet and they had easily the best people I’ve worked with. You can tell because that spreadsheet has morphed into so much more – people offering each other resources, answering questions, and providing support. Grateful to be a part of such a strong community.

2020 W15: Exploring something new, Tool(s) du jour, and interesting links

Seattle @ Sunset (Unsplash)

COVID-19’s impact has changed so much. There’s millions of people or the 10’s of thousands of small businesses across the world who’s trajectories are now changed forever – mostly negatively. I remain hopeful that this will make us stronger in the long-run even though it’ll come at a tremendous cost.

Exploring, differently

While the above is true, I also don’t want to only think and talk about COVID-19. Since the middle-of-March it’s taken up almost all of my brain space but in a non-constructive way.

My plan for 2020 was to explore new places, meet people who’ve lived very different lives, and learning about business that don’t depend on being at the forefront of technology adoption. This year was suppose to be an opportunity for me to explore where I wanted to live, take a lot of pictures, and nail down which kind of businesses would give me the most energy. With travel now out of the window and no forseeable path towards freedom of movement worldwide, I’ve decided to start exploring working on some new things to work much ahead than planned. Over the next 6-9 months, with a few others, I’m hoping to put together initial version of products that could become very exciting.

The first idea on the agenda is bringing message boards into the future and how we work today (think Google Groups re-imagined). If you’re interested in collaborating in any way: expressing your frustrations with google groups in your org, giving feedback, wanting to build together, etc. please do reach out: me@varadhja.in.

P.S If anyone wants to pair on Figma with a complete noob, I’m available.

Tool(s) du jour

I tweeted a few weeks ago about how status on twitter drives a lot of productivity app adoption in its earliest days. Your latest to float to the top is: Roam Research, Hey.com, Pitch, and Linear.

While turnover of tools for something better, in general, has been true since the spear days, but I’m surprised at how quickly things are moving in some parts of the stack of personal productivity. This has me pretty excited tbh both as a user and as an investor very interested in tools that make how we work.

One thing though to think about is that while it’s been easier than ever to build new tools, the bar for customer experience (design) and feature parity remain higher than every. This often means that what we’re seeing getting distribution now has taken about 2-3 years at least to build if not more.

One implication of this to me: While NYT wrote about the “fat startup” being relevant for full-stack startups when talking about Opendoor, I think its going to become more of an option for productivity software as well. A few data points of companies building for a few years + raising $10mm pre-launch: Coda, Superhuman, Pitch

Interesting links

2020 W13: YourStack, Twitter lists, online board games, and empty streets

Twitter List Timelines

I completely missed the announcement that you could make lists into timelines on mobile but glad to have stumbled upon it this week. This was always possible on TweetDeck but to have it on your phone has completely changed my mobile experience. I can finally go ahead and live out of the multiple lists (now timelines) I’ve spent so long curating and get the added benefit of cleaning up the following on my main account.

I wonder what the activation rate of this feature is for the average user is but power users are likely as delighted as I am. Lists finally have additional day to day usage.

I do wish a few things though: (1) instead of a “FOLLOWS YOU” I wish there was a “HAS YOU IN A LIST” or something and (2) showing interactions between people who are in different lists in those timelines.

My lists: https://twitter.com/varadhjain/lists

YourStack

YourStack form the Product Hunt team I think is a very interesting product. It’s a social layer for “what’s in your backpack” so to speak.

There’s a few unique opportunities for the product:

  1. Mobile Stack: I’ve long held hope that somebody will build something fun around all the home screen screenshots (twitter is littered with these). Can do so many cool things like: what’s making it to the home screen, what’s getting taken off, automatically updating my stack when I add a screenshot, etc.
  2. Real Reviews: There needs to be a cooler version of G2 Crowd. As a part of this, there needs to be a software equivalent of unboxing videos – these should live on YourStack.
  3. Recommendation: It seems like there’s a version of this called ProTips (?) but it’s be hidden. (Who remembers FoodSpotting lol)

I’m excited for the future of this product acknowledging that nearly nobody has cracked any analogous version of this since Goodreads.

Online Board Games



Over the last week I’ve played a few hours of online board games with Secret Hitler being the most common. It’s been a lot of fun to play board games I’ve only played in-person, online. Downside is you have fewer body signals to learn from (for the social deception games) but highly recommend you give it a try too. Zoom + Secret Hitler

Empty Streets

Seattle’s pretty empty right now. It’s where I am holed up at the moment, and Lower Queen Anne feels somewhat deserted without all the cars and bikes. The only people I see are runners and dog-walkers when trying to catch some fresh air (other than the construction crew at Seattle’s Key Arena).

Reading / Watching

  • Delta-V by Daniel Suarez ⭐️⭐️
    • The book has been wonderful so far. Nathan Jois makes for a classic SV entrepreneurial story of great personal cost for a mission that most don’t not comprehend. The people (asscans here) to make the mission happen each have their own motivations (often financial) which are often not the same as the entrepreneur but nevertheless are critical like any other project. The space-related technology is not stuff I’m familiar with but seems plausible.
  • Ozarks S1 & S2 ⭐️⭐️⭐️
    • Re-watching the show in anticipation of the next season
  • The Sky is Pink (Netflix) 🌟
    • This Hindi movie was a heart-wrenching but very enjoyable. Sprinkled with lots of humor with softens the blow of the underlying tragedy, this was a great movie on Indian family dynamics which had tears in my eyes at many different points.
  • Altered Carbon S2 😐
    • I really enjoyed Season 1 but somehow couldn’t find myself able to get passed the second episode in Season 2. Gave up. Skipping the rest, sadly.

Exploring

I’ve started exploring some new ideas. Catching with up many friends.

COVID-19

Please see: ft.com for more reliable news here.

First Podcast

2 weeks ago, I went on my first podcast which was a bit nerve-wracking. Initially, it was planned to be a 45 minute episode. However, I recommended the hosts do a 15-minute episode that’s easy to listen to and has the potential of serving as a biographical snapshot of my life at this point and how it might make sense to have ben on again to see how things have changed. Especially for people not famous for something yet.

I hope you give it a listen but also I look forward to listening to this again in a few years.

Show notes: https://www.notion.so/12-Varadh-Jain-791bcdb3f71b4b7d9541fb722981416a

Thinking about COVID-19

NOTE: THIS IS NOT MEDICAL ADVICE. YOU SHOULD GET TESTED FOR COVID IF YOU CAN AND FOLLOW NECESSARY TREATMENT. THIS IS A THOUGHT EXPERIMENT AT THIS TIME OF WHAT HAPPENS IF THE SYSTEMS ARE OVERWHELMED. ITS A SCRIBBLE.

I’m thinking through my thoughts out loud – please tell me why this is absurd to even think about.

One of the top ideas that’s out there is to flatten the curve: which means that we should try and load balance to avoid overwhelming our health care system. This includes testing and treatment infrastructure.

One idea I’ve been thinking about given following information / constraints is if anyone

1) under 30 starts seeing any symptoms and

2) are not known to be at-risk, when

3) the country is lacking infrastructure:

COULD it make more sense for them to start following protocol as if they’ve tested postive to manage from home instead of heading to the hospital and keeping beds and testing kits open for older/at-risk folks?

To thinking through whether this a bad idea or not, I’m trying to find the following info / answers / account for these thoughts:

  • clearly defined symptoms:
    • read about body aches, fever, cough, runny nose, chills, and some more
  • what pre-existing conditions make you at-risk?
  • find data on mortality / recovery rate for <30 y/o folks
  • what happens when you test positive for COVID 19 and you get checked-in to a hospital? what treatment do they follow? when do escalations happen?
  • in the countries where they’re turning away people from hospitals, what’s the protocol of things they’re asking you to follow? eg. drink lots of water, stay away from people, take x,y,z medicine which are available off the counter
  • by when should you expect to recover? If not recovered by then, how to inform the hospital and get elevated care?
  • the template for informing people you’ve been in contact with that you’re taking precautions and self-isolating
  • what if this springs people who don’t even have it to start taking precautions and social distance/isolate preemptively?
  • will it cause a mass panic / hysteria if people start getting messages from people about their safety?
  • what else?

I know a few young people who’ve had the symptoms, tried to get tested last week and couldn’t, went home – slept for a few days, some some fever & cold medicine, plan to stay isolated for 2 weeks, but feel like the worst is gone and are making a full recovery. Now, of course we don’t know if they had it or not, but it’s encouraging that they feel fit enough to stand up again. could young people staying at home even when sick save lives because nearly all of them will recover anyway assuming we have a protocol for when they escalate and head to a hospital?

Update: It looks like the Ohio Government is recommend this policy as well. and here’s a lot of relevant links to this idea.

Symptoms: https:/ /themillennialmind.substack.com/p/what-to-look-for

2020 W11

Starting a new category called Scribbles where I write a little something daily; low-pressure, short, and likely half baked thoughts.

Today’s my birthday and it’s been a whirlwind of a week leading up to it. From getting ready to go skiing with friends to self-isolating and cancelling the trip. It’s been a hard week but I do feel privileged that I’ll likely be 100% okay at the end of this. I know the same is not true for many other be it for reasons of: jobs, savings, health, and so many more.

I hope that the impact is minimal and we’re as kind as we can be to each other.

2020 W4

I’m an operator exploring new ideas and investing in exceptional founders, usually pre-hype. Post investing, strive to be their first call until they’ve moved onto the next chapter. I’ve been an operator at startups for the last 4 years (mostrecently, Opendoor) focused on product, operations, and community. 

I’m always looking to chat with people who are thinking about starting something or have just gotten started, please introduce us! 

Highlights

  • At the turn of the new year, I wrote a post about problems that I’ve either experienced or think are interesting to possibly work on. I’ve been surprised by how many amazing conversations I’ve had with people who’re already working on some of them or are tinkering. Might write one of these again sometime soon, I’m energized.
  • Time spent with a lot of founders in India building some pretty cool things at the earliest stages. 
  • Talking on the phone gives me a lot of energy. 

Lowlights:

  • I’m attempting to improve my ankle strength post an injury while hiking in Canada last year but the niggle refuses to go away 

Plans: 

Please feel free to send any recommendations for things to see, people to meet, and food to eat in any of these cities. If you’re in one of these cities, let’s hang out! 

  • 02/06 – 02/10 Colombo 🇱🇰
  • 02/10 – 02/14 Dubai 🇦🇪
  • 02/15 – 02/22 London 🇬🇧
  • 02/23 – 03/03 Edinburgh 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿
  • 03/04 – 03/08 Toronto* 🇨🇦
  • 03/08 – 03/12 Vancouver* 🇨🇦
  • 03/13 – Happy birthday to me 

* Tentative
Requests

  • If there’s somebody awesome that you’ve not been able to hire at this time for some reason but would happily recommend them, please do send them my way, I’d love to help out. 

Scattered Stats:  

  • Flights: 3
  • Weight: 🏋🏽‍ 77kgs
  • Conversations w. new founders: 43
  • Ideas explored: 2
  • New Investments:  1
  • Golf rounds <10: 1

Ruminations:

  • Spaces I’ve continued to be thinking about: 
    • Operational tooling
    • Full-stack companies 
    • Productivity software 
    • (new) “No code” for all skills – post coming soon. 

You can reach me on, iMessage (me@varadhja.in) or on Twitter (@varadhjain). 

P.S Thank you Jeremy Yap for letting me be inspired by your format and Taimur for connecting us.

Potential Startup Ideas for 2020

Some thoughts on Christmas from a coffee shop. A lot of these are problems I’ve been thinking about or directly encountered.

International Visa Management 

  • If you’re North American/European, this might not be as big a problem for you but if you’re not the process of getting visas is terrible.
  • If anyone is building a plaid for legal identity/visas, please save me from this hell of entering the same basic information, the set of documents, credit card information, references, etc. 
  • Tourism across the world continues to grow and making this easier to unlock a whole lot more travel. 
  • A key challenge here will be intercepting the monopoly of VFS over this process but do think it’s possible with a few countries to test a pilot with. 

Notes/Documents + Task Management + Links

  • The context for tasks resides in documents. Documents are filled with links. Links are websites or resources/assets in other apps. Making it all work together I think remains a very real opportunity.
  • So far, dropbox paper & notion come closest to the best. There’s one or two smaller co’s (Roam & Pine) which could potentially become the defaults here.
  • P.S I want to write a longer note doing some research on the future of productivity

Privacy & Security Management 

  • I’m relatively paranoid and more people should be, especially in the wake of multiple scandals. However, it is cumbersome and very hard to get new people started on the path of trying to secure themselves and do any kind of ongoing monitoring. 
  • Here’s a list of some things I’ve done and I’d love to see tools to simplify this: 
    • Phone Numbers: I maintain a public and private number to reduce attack vectors
    • Credit Cards: Use privacy.com to generate credit card numbers for payments on shady websites.
    • Settings on phone / laptop: around notifications, location, sharing, background refresh, camera/microphone, ad limiting etc. 
    • Regular audits of platform apps: removing unwanted apps, disabling web & location tracking on google, etc. 
    • Password management: Continues to be a challenge to get users to adopt. (Either this needs to be done by OS providers or we need to get rid of passwords completely and move to magic links + otp verification)
    • VPN: Quite valuable for somebody who uses public wifi’s frequently. 
    • HaveIBeenPwned.com: Set up account alert monitoring for various email addresses 
  • One co. that’s interesting for some parts of this is Jumbo which launched earlier this year. 

Venture Debt Financing in India

  • Spending time here in the last few weeks here, there’s a clear opportunity to build a fund focused on venture debt in India. There’s only a companies focused on this (innoven, alteria) and none of traditional banks have any plans to doing anything in this space. 
  • Especially in a world where’s there’s more D2C & SaaS companies being built in the country, the demand for this product is only likely to continue to grow.

OS for SMBs

  • Growth for small businesses, especially in traditional sectors, remains hard as it’s hard to operationalise and become process driven. In a world where they are not used to paying for SaaS subscriptions you’d likely need to make money in adjacent ways (first: financing) but better tooling 
  • I think of Square doing this well for retail companies (stores & restaurants) but think there’s an opportunity to build in 100’s of other kinds of small businesses including real estate, real-world 1-3 person shops around specific skills (plumbing, furniture makers, etc.), freelance tech talent, etc. 
  • Enabling the sustainable GPD growth via better ERP tooling and process management (eg. Bringing in better metrics visibility, okr accountability, task delegation etc.) 
  • & Freelances?: do think there’s a some overlap with this and helping freelancers manage themselves and their businesses. 

Home Financing Products

  • Homes are getting harder to buy for a variety of reasons in the cities that people want to live with. 
  • Additionally the primary way of purchasing a home remains the 30 year mortgage. I say this caution but do sincerely believe there’s likely many places to innovate here. We’re starting to see the rise of equity sharing/downpayment assistance, fractional ownership, rent-to-town, rent/mortgage splits, etc. and am excited to see the adoption of some of the above services but also many new ones. 

Family Account Management

  • Over the last couple of years, I’ve moved to all things Apple: from music, to storage, to devices, for the entire family as it’s really helped do account management much better.
  • However, it’s still complicated to get family members onboard on new services, organise the billing, and manage the subscriptions. 
  • I think there’s an opportunity to build an Okta for Families. One that I would pay for but also could be a great way for subscription apps to increase conversion & retention. This one’s a personal problem more so than anything else though. 

Unroll.me / Substack, Medium, Mailchimp Aggregator

  • In the last 3 months I’ve now subscribed to more than 10 Substack newsletters which has me thinking about so many different issues & opportunities. Brings back 2016 memories of medium publications and mail chimp newsletters. 
  • How do you better read the subscriptions without cluttering your inbox. What about unsubscribing and discovery? Does it make sense to integrate with emails clients, potentially? All TBD, but. if personal audiences are having a moment right now then it seems like an opprotune time to solve customer problems here. 

If you’re building any of these, let’s chat me@varadhja.in. I’d love to help, if relevant, and invest 🙏🏽 More about me here

Misc collection:

  • B2B Marketplaces around commodities
  • Contract management tooling 
  • Real estate transaction management 
  • Better financial management at startups: budget, planning, forecasting, ap/ar 
  • Professional feedback & references library for personal growth (analogous to medical records which can be seen by any doctor)
  • Artist discovery -> TikTok now for music. What other creative industries mighty we be able to improve new talent discovery in a non-direct way. 

2019 Books

Reverse chronology order of books read this year. Goodreads here.

  1. The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company
  2. The Passage of Power (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, #4)*
  3. Newcomer (Detective Kaga, #2)
  4. The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power
  5. Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing
  6. The Mastermind: Drugs. Empire. Murder. Betrayal.*
  7. Norse Mythology
  8. The Anarchy: The East India Company, Corporate Violence, and the Pillage of an Empire
  9. Liar’s Poker
  10. The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America
  11. My Family and Other Animals (Corfu Trilogy, #1)*
  12. Kochland: The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America
  13. The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity
  14. The Outsider
  15. Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland*
  16. Consider the Lobster and Other Essays
  17. Propaganda*
  18. City of Thieves
  19. Chaos Monkeys: Inside the Silicon Valley money machine
  20. The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America’s Banana King
  21. Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco
  22. Stories of Your Life and Others
  23. Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman*
  24. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption*
  25. The Last Days of Night
  26. To Engineer Is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design
  27. A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal
  28. Wild Company: The Untold Story of Banana Republic*
  29. The Accidental Superpower: The Next Generation of American Preeminence and the Coming Global Disorder*
  30. Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son*

Thinking Critically: My Time at Opendoor

Over the last couple of months I’ve moved away from leading a cross-functional team to doing IC work remotely (will be a separate post later). As I’m a little more distant from the business (geography & nature of what I’ve been spending time on for the last month or so) I was trying to articulate for myself why I believe Opendoor’s succeeded so far and why to be bullish / bearish about the co. especially as I exercise more options (commit $$ to the co). Harder to share what’s still to be done & what I think the challenges that remain are, I found this a very useful exercise. Particularly so as I’m spending more time with new companies and what’s the must solve hypothesis for them at their earliest stages.

Please note: This is my opinion based on observations. Sharing this but redacting parts that might be considered sensitive.

Company execution: 

  • Customer experience / Customer focus. NPS – word of mouth 
  • Capital markets 
  • Pricing algorithms 
  • Internal tools 
  • Product marketing – “sell your house hassle free”
  • Complex ops management 
  • Analytics – ops, pick markets, etc 
  • Home entry: Text to enter 
  • Ability to launch markets 
  • Recruit A+ talent. Constantly. 

Timing & necessary conditions: 

  • Low interest rates 
  • Macro up cycle 
  • MLS data open with history of transactions 
  • Repeatable housing 

Where the business is yet to succeed:

  • Adjacent Services (sort of already done but more broadly)
  • Survive a downcycle
  • Competition (welcome, public company)

Why I’d still bet on opendoor: 

  • Huge, huge, huge market. 
  • Truly a better experience for customer 
  • Margins at scale

Enduring moats: 

  • Flywheel
  • Brand equity & trust in the marketplace
  • Internal operations tooling ?

It was also an opportunity for me to take stock of where I think I excelled and had the greatest impact.

My impact at Opendoor: 

  • Solving complex problems at the intersection of technology and operations and regulated businesses. Always driving to simplify and using software and ops processes to drive better outcomes
  • I’ve been a general purpose human more than anything else
  • Had the chance to original support team in Phoenix: 0 -> 1 -> 5. Original playbook, scripting, tooling. Today team is 50+ people. 
  • Data analytics + bots to drive operational leverage
  • Brokerage: spec’d & lead building of transaction management platform & ops playbook for compliance in 1st state (AZ). Gold star from regulator.  Playbook scaled
  • Canonical work: winding down Opendoor Mortgage 1.0 (beta), strategy for 2.0 and scrapping, core team to launch 3.0. (Mortgages @ Opendoor needs to be a book, lol)
  • lFor 3.0: Leading cross functional growth team. 3 eng, pm, 1 pmm, 1 CX ops, and 1 analyst

Real World Experiences: Vallea Lumina

As a part of my nomadic journey across the world… I was recently in Whistler, Canada. While its usually known for its world-class slopes and pristine nature, one of the highlights was an immersive experience called Vallea Lumina. Initially, I wasn’t sure what it was or what to expect as it was marketed as a multimedia night walk but signed up anyway. It helped that there were little postcards about it all over the city. I didn’t expect much but who wouldn’t get excited by the word multimedia.

Selecting the last show of the night (9:40 PM, I think), I boarded a bus to get to what looked like a trailhead. At the entrance, you’ve got a solid camp vibe with s’mores and hot chocolates for before you get started (or at the end). It took about 45 minutes to walk through something of a cross between the museum of ice cream, a hike, an EDM party with the themes of camping (lights and music), and mystery. There was a projected skit, a preserved tent with artefacts, a morse code challenge, campfire music, talking trees, and immersive lighting. It turned out to be a unique and pleasurable experience unlike any I’ve experienced before and it was worth every $$. 

I think we’ll see many more experiences like this that are very interactive and novel. While people might scoff at the idea of the company that did the museum of ice cream raising $40mm, I’m quite bullish about experiences like that, Vallea Lumina, Dismaland (yes, I get it), and more. There will no doubt be so many new experiences that people of all ages do in groups together and I’m excited for all of it — whether out and about in the world or further into your computing devices(eg. Sandbox VR*).

Whether these are to be one-off co’s that are similar to art installations or true venture-funded companies is TBD but this location Vallea Lumina also appears to be a good business. $40 pp and 600-800 people per night on average is what I heard from one of the people manning the shuttle buses and it increases as the sunsets become earlier. This though does get me thinking what’s Disneyland 2.0?

*Invested in SandboxVR via an AL Syndicate

Challenging Oneself – Hiking 🥾

Some of you might be familiar with a monthly hiking group that I organized for most of 2018. As a part of organizing anything you tend to get a good amount of requests, comments, and questions. For the hiking group, one of the common comments / requests has always been: “this hike looks so hard, could we do a easier one.” Sometimes I would pick a shorter one or one with an easier elevation gain and sometimes I’d be like come anyway and if it gets too hard we can always turn around earlier / cut across to the other side of the loop. When choosing to do the latter, I don’t think we’ve ever turned around. The 1-2 people who were anxious challenged themselves and always pushed through to the end. Something I’ve always been fascinated by: giving yourself an escape hatch but not giving into it.

This past weekend, I was in Whistler with plans to checkout Garibaldi Lake. The hike is pretty daunting: 20km and a ~900m elevation gain. However, there’s another way to do it: go all the way up to Panorama Ridge and enjoy the lake from above. Only problem: 30km and a ~1600m elevation gain. Having not hiked for most of this year, I was anxious to even do the former but knew I could make it if I pushed myself. But getting to Panorama Ridge seemed too hard to even think about let alone committing myself to making it to the top. But the views from the top were too irresistible to not try. You know where this going…I gave myself the same talk: I’ll do the trail to the lake and at the fork between the two, I’ll make the decision on which way to go. I could choose to only do the lake or if I was feeling comfortable — I’d go all the way.

I ended up going all the way. It makes me think about two important things: splitting daunting goals into smaller ones and giving yourself an out (but rarely using it). Both have tended to be helpful tools for me. Though the cynic in me always wonders why I need to play these little games with myself but hey, it’s worked well?

How do you approach challenging tasks. Do you ever find yourself with some some tricks too?

Crossborder SaaS

For some time there have been Indian companies building SaaS products and selling it across the world (Zoho/Freshworks/etc.) but we’re now starting to see global companies thinking about how to sell and price their products in India.

While India’s nowhere near the next top destination for selling SaaS in terms of short-term revenue opportunities, rough ordering being the US, EU, ANZ, then rest of the world, it must be falling on folks radar to build a presence and more so a brand here. If India’s Slack and Segment are indeed Slack and Segement then there’s lower likelihood of a local company to having fertile grounds to build solid foundations in a relatively incubated fashion which could then leverage to compete with across the world.

What’s gotten me thinking about this is stumbling upon Slack’s India pricing. If your company is located in India, then you only pay 40% of their regular plans (60% off!). That comes out to to about $3.2/mo or about ₹220 per employee per month or ₹2200 per employee, annually. Even at Slack’s margins I cannot imagine this being “worth it” so to speak.

I look forward to seeing how this plays out in the next couple years. In which sectors do companies take the market in India and if Indian which markets do they take across the world. I have hunches on how this will play out but look forward to watching it closely.


Simple Advice for Good Health

The best advice is the simplest.

The simplest advice is the hardest to follow.

This has roughly been my take away from the last week where I’ve been in and out of the hospital 🏥 on what I need to do to deal with my situation but also most health related ones:

  • Sleep enough
  • Eat healthy
  • Exercise regularly

Story time:

Last Saturday night, my body broke out in rashes without an apparent cause. Something that I had never experienced before. It was annoying at first but eventually turned painful. I barely slept over the rest of the night attempted to temper the sensation by scratching my burning body.

On Sunday morning, we went to the hospital and got some shots for an allergic reaction which provided temporary relief.

By Monday, my body was going crazy and once again I felt extremely fatigued. Once again, I was back at the hospital getting more shots still treating it as an allergic reaction. Only this time, it made things worse.

Yesterday, Tuesday, I woke up with my entire body red in rashes and unable to look at myself in the mirror. Back at the hospital again, the doctors were beginning to suspect more and ordered many tests and then gave me more shots. I waited for the test results to arrive which would give us clarity on whether it was something worse (viral infection, bacterial infection) or still something more benign, an allergic reaction. By the late afternoon, the test results arrived and much to my relief the doctors went back to suspecting just the latter: an allergy attack. Specifically, being allergic to food colouring and certain additives combined with my body having a very high IGe levels (~388 vs the normal cutoff being below 100) which roughly translates to when you have a reaction you’ll have a severe one. What made it worse was likely a low immunity due to poor sleeping and eating habits, and being in a new environment.

The immediate change that was recommended was to eat only home-made food for the foreseeable future until we confirm the hypothesis and allow my body to heal.

However, the long-term recommendations from the doctor aside from double-checking for certain ingredients was to 1) ensure I sleep enough, 2) eat healthier (and at home), and ) exercise regularly, to lead a healthier life with reduced chances of allergy attacks in the future and better chance to fight them off.

Of course, I had another new reality about myself to live with but as I read that part of the the doctor’s advice on my way home I couldn’t help but sit astounded at the magnitude of the impact doing those three things have on one’s physical and mental health.

The advice sounds so simple but are relatively hard to follow. One part of me worries that the reason it is so hard to follow is because it is so simple. So easy to dismiss while looking for a more complex ways to achieve healthier outcomes. This week’s episode was a great reminder for me that sometimes the best advice is the simplest and must try hard to follow it.

As for me, I’m on medication this week and next to kickstart my body again and have been advised to only eat home-cooked meals. Excited to be back at full-health again and getting better at being looped into a healthier routine.


Also, I feel so lucky to have been at home while this happened because I am not sure things would’ve been so smooth without the support of my parents.

May ’19: Interesting Newsletters I Subscribe To

Brain Food (Shane Parrish): Here is your weekly dose of Brain Food, a signal in a world full of noise.

Breaking Smart (VGR): Seeking serendipity through technology 

Buried Reads (Morrils): Buried Reads for Startups is sent weekly on Saturday morning. It includes the best blog posts that week from founders and venture capitalists. We read over 1,000 websites each week and share only the best reads we find. Subscribe now.

Hacker News Digest: The top stories on Hacker News in your inbox, daily

Monday Musings (David Perrel): A celebration of learning and curiosity 

On My Mind (Michael Dempsey): 5 things on my mind from the past week

RadReads (Khemaridh Hy): Newsletter about ambition and money.

Sinocism (Bill Bishop): “The presidential daily brief for China hands”

Snippets 2.0

A continuation of Snippets newsletter, which I wrote at Social Capital from 2015-2019. No keeping it going on my own. Weekly writing, links, and other stuff I post on alexdanco.com

Alex Danco

Sunday Long Read (Don Van Natta): The best long-form journalism. Every Sunday 

The Browser (Robert Cottrell): Every day we read hundreds of articles and select the best five for you to enjoy, so you’ll always have something to read on the train and interesting things to say at dinner. 

The Internet is a City (Nadia Eghbal): Once a month, I send out an email with my latest writing, notes, and anything interesting I’ve read. Sign up and I’ll keep you posted on my work. 

The Story’s Story (Jake Seliger): As implied by this blog’s title, this site is about books, writing, and culture—the story of the story

What’s Next (Jordan Gonen): Interesting links that help you think about the future

Switching from Audible to Scribd…^ Some Links Related to Audio

When somebody mentions “audiobook” there’s a high probability you’d probably think of the Amazon-owned entity, “Audible”. I, too, did for the longest time. I didn’t even think anyone else offered audiobooks. Plus, I’ve been on an Audible annual subscription for about two years now. Tweeting on something related to this, Jackson tweeted back basically saying: Scribd > Audible.

Scribd: My last memory of this site wasn’t much. My memory extended to needing to upload a document to get credits which you then used to download a different document…and it not having a great interface. That was probably back when I was in college. I didn’t know they did anything else. Visiting their website, it looked like they’ve added significantly to their offering: Unlimited books & audiobooks for $8.99? Plus a clean inteface? I’m intruiged.

Essentially if I read more than 1 book a month it was cheaper than the Platinum Annual plan (~$9.5/book). Plus, it would give me the flexibility to abandon any books I didn’t like. It made sense to sign up.

I signed up for the service last month (Jan) to test out the service and test the depth of the catalogue. About 70% of the titles I had previously purchased on Audible were available and the same with the next 10 titles I had hoped purchase, 7 of them were available. Good enough for me to switch behaviour and potentially unlocking some latent demand to consume even more…maybe more than 1 book a month.

Hence, I didn’t renew my subscription to Audible with the plan of using Scribd + purchasing any titles it didn’t offer directly from Amazon. The only downside to this remains not owning the title and being locked into the subscription for as long as I’d like to use their audiobooks — not dissimilar from the expectations you’d already have from subscribing to a Netflix.

If you currently subscribe to Audible, I’d encourage you to look into Scribd (#not-an-ad). They’ll even throw in an annual subscription to Pocket & Blinkist.

Scribd raised $22mm in 2015 from Khosla and other folks…they’ve had this available for a while. It should definitely drive up audiobook consumption https://techcrunch.com/2015/01/02/scribd-khosla-funding/. Here’s a recommendation of books from Scribd (and Opendoor) board member Keith Rabois (@Rabois) to get you started.

More on audio

All of this got me thinking a bit more about (non-music) audio in general. Here’s a loose collection of links/unstructured thoughts.

  • Audio drives consumption. Voice is the complement that drives creation.
  • We’re seeing audio become more and more mainstream as potentially the next big platform. We’re already seeing the growing numbers for increased consumption of audiobooks and podcasts and could extend further.
  • Audio – Demand:
    • One part is no doubt driven by the growing popularity of AirPods – personal consumption. See “AirPods Have Gone Viral” – LINK (High visibility, social signalling, and something different). “AirPods Are Now One of Apple’s Most Important Products” – LINK
    • Another part via the in-home voice assistants: Alexa, Siri, Google etc. LINK, LINK
    • Growing podcast revenue proxy for increased demand from consumer. LINK Efficacy of listening: NYT Op-ed LINK Industry report on Audiobooks LINK.
    • Dive deeper into Sirius to understand more about the biggest audio platforms of yesteryear: radio. Radio is a $40b ad business. LINK What’s the transition here. Maybe there isn’t one Sirius bought Pandora…x-sell users and maintain base?
  • Voice – Supply:
    • We’re also seeing an increase in creation tooling eg. Anchor acq Spotify (Podcasts) and Voiceflow (bots).
    • More picks and shovels will be built. including ad tooling, analytics, content moderation, user verification, etc.
  • Exclusive Supply:
    • As all of this happens: owning exclusive content and apps (skills) will start to become more and important. Ben Thompson (aggregation theory) has more which touches on this topic in his post about Spotify acquisitions LINK.
    • Audible has Originals already. Spotify has Gimlet. What’s the equivalent for Scribd?
    • Are original audiobooks similar to super in-depth podcasts like Hardcore History?
    • Would such titles ever make it to being in a book format? Will they become more interactive: either with the screen as the second medium or via interactions?
    • Certain skills will be available on one device and not another. I cannot find any good examples of this right now.
    • Will we see more dedicated production houses? Is Serial an equivalent to Game of Thrones for HBO? How many more podcasting production houses will we see?
    • There was the crazy $500mm deal for Howard Stern back in 2004 LINK when he joined Sirius. There’s Joe Rogan. Who’s next? Will they go to a platform?
  • Networks:
    • v1 is most obvious here: a social network for audio books (a la GoodReads) or for podcasts (a la Breaker).
    • v2 here will be native to the platform itself: For eg. TTYL (ex-UCLA folks) are attempting to build audio social network and Chai (ex-USC folks 😏) building voice chat for teams.
    • How will these v2 networks interact with the supply not from friends?
    • What’s after this? Will we see existing networked platforms build here? Twitter/Fb/Snap/Google/etc?

If you have interesting links on the audio space and/or are building something is this space, I’d love to chat: me@varadhja.in or @varadhjain.

P.S. Any good newsletters in this space?

Looking Back at a Succesful Project & Team

In H2 of 2017, at Opendoor we encountered a problem with came with a small threat: it could force us to shut down a market we operated in (low probability) but not nailing it might potentially disrupt or pause operations in all other states we were “live” in should it not be solved. It had to be a cross-functional effort between the brokerage, EPD*, and compliance teams to solve.


I stumbled upon the project largely because I think nobody else had said signed up for it 😬. The story of this project deserves a post in itself but the project ended up achieving its goal, against all odds. Given various circumstances including needing to staff up resourcing quickly, a hard problem, and a looming deadline, in classic Opendoor fashion we retro’d on why we thought the project had succeeded.

I think applies to any project whether it be for yourself, within a company, or even the early days of a startup. It reminded me a lot of how things were when all of us on the Polymail team were living together and doing YC in the summer of 2016.

  • Clarity – helps align everyone and convince people to join. Simplify how you talk about what you’re doing.
  • External Deadlines – force prioritization and a ship. (of course there’s caveats here)
  • Enthusiasm – this sh*t is hard, be excited for it and find amazing people to work with.
  • Tailwinds – always be able to answer the why now.
  • People, people, people 💙

This one turned out to be one of my favourite special projects at Opendoor because of the people I got to work with and learn from, the ownership over the problem, the ability to have a meaningful impact, and learning one more pillar of business complexity that we have. Plus it gave me a chance to do what I love doing the most: managing the product and the operations.

The project also ended up having a much larger than our initially scoped impact as we, hi Tim, Visnu 👋🏾, built a brokerage specific transaction management product (Broker Admin), and sped our path to move to our own contract management software (HelloRito) at Opendoor.

*EPD – Engineering, Product Design

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2019-01: Finding a new daily routine

This week’s definitely been one of the hardest I’ve had in a while as there’s been a lot of changes in my day to day: living in India, inconsistent daily patterns, starting to work again though this time remotely and in the opposite timezone, a missing workouts, and trying to balance spending time with family, and more. I’ve been the least concentrated and most frustrated in a very, very long time.

A part of the struggle has been hoping I’d settle into a new routing naturally, it which hasn’t worked…AT ALL. However, hope is not a strategy. So, I’ve tried to map out a new daily playbook and went a bit deeper on my meal routine which has definitely been one of the bigger adjustments.

I’m hoping this works out. Will make tweaks on the fly but hoping to retro in a Feb/March 🙂

Daily Routine

  • 11 AM – 5/6 PM: Sleep. I average about 5.5 hours a day in sleep right now. So, I’m going to try to overcompensate by trying to hit between 6-7 hours a night.
  • 6 PM: Meal.
  • 7 -9 PM: Personal TimeTBD
  • 9:30 PM – 7 AM: Work. This gives me the ability to work nearly the same schedule I would’ve in the. However, I think I am being optimistic here as I’ve crashed at my desk between 3 AM – 5 AM nearly every day this week (missing meetings!!)
  • 7 AM: Gym. The golf club has a gym and a pool which might replace my outdoor running routine. Outdoor running has definitely been harder in India with traffic and worse outdoor air quality (AQI 150+)
  • 9 AM: Meal.
  • 10 AM: RelaxTBD

Meal Routine

Lots to unpack in here, it deserves a post in itself.

Other things to be figured out:

  • Specifics of the gym routine
  • Distribution of time between reading/writing
  • How to work remotely effectively
  • What’s my focus for things to learn in 2019: got a masterclass (for writing & photography), what else (TBD)