The world needs Superman!

In this post-modern globalized world where everything seems to be in shades of grey, it’s easy to wonder whether Superman – and his invulnerability, perfection and undeterred optimism – still has any appeal. Having seen the movie last night, I can answer with a resounding yes!

I suppose that we all want to believe in something greater than ourselves and to some extent it’s liberating to leave our destinies in the hands of others – look at the appeal of religion, statesmen and sometimes entrepreneurs. If anything Superman’s appeal is stronger than ever as a result of this difficult, conflict ridden time we live in.

The movie is entertaining, the story well told and well acted. Lex Luthor takes a welcome turn to a darker side creating a stronger black versus white storyline. That said Kevin Spacey is somewhat disappointing in the role – I expected much more given his roles in Seven and The Usual Suspects. He probably did as well as he could, given a script that vacillated between frivolity and gravity. Surprisingly, Philip Seymor Hoffman made a much more effective villain in MI3 than Kevin Spacey does in Superman Returns. I did not care much for the kid either as his face was expressionless for most of the movie.

That said, all these are mere quibbles in what is a very good and entertaining movie! Superman: the world needs you!

Narcissistic Leaders: The Incredible Pros, The Inevitable Cons

I thought many of you would enjoy the irony of my posting this 🙂

Freud has been proven wrong time and time again, but this analysis published in the January 2000, Harvard Business Review seems dead on.

One of my favorite lines: “Consider how an executive at Oracle describes his narcissistic CEO Larry Ellison: “The difference between God and Larry is that God does not believe he is Larry.”

And then there were 8 business selection criteria!

A few months ago I wrote about my 9 business selection criteria for evaluating business ideas. After some deliberation, I have decided to relax the selection process. Specifically, as long as the idea has massive mass market appeal, I am now willing to start businesses where the business model may not be clear and understood from the get go.

While relaxing the criteria, makes the project riskier, strict adherence to the philosophy would mean that I would have passed on Google, Facebook and MySpace. Again, this conclusion is highly personal. To some extent I have already succeeded and as a result am willing to take more risks in order to increase the probability of a home run even if it decreases my batting average.

My willingness to take more risk is clearly demonstrated in running OLX and funding Allmydata – the former is in an extremely competitive market with entrenched incumbents, the later is also in a competitive market whose size and viability is yet to be proven – even though both of them, a priori, have clear business models.

A first time entrepreneur may want to keep the selection criteria to increase his probability of success and set the stage for future successes.

Marley and Me is fun, very touching and a must read for dog lovers!

This is a must read for all dog lovers and owners – especially, if like me, you have a large crazy yellow lab retriever who might very well take over Marley’s title as the world’s worst dog 🙂

Every dog owner will recognize and laugh out loud at Marley’s antics! The book is also very good at depicting the simple joys and lessons of life learned through the chaos and destruction of dog ownership.

In the end, I cried like I had not in a very long time. I was touched on a personal level like I have rarely been before. When it was all over I felt I had experienced a condensed form of dog ownership with all the highs and the lows. I was left very satisfied despite the sad ending because, all in all, Marley had an amazing happy life and was such a source of joy for his family for so many years!

OLX Launch Debrief

OLX aspires to become the leading free local classified site on a global level. The company was created in March 2006, the site launch announced on this blog on April 1, 2006 and we started marketing it in May 2006.

It is still early days, but the early results are encouraging. The site already has over 8,000 listings on a global level, gets 2,000 replies per month and did 3 million page views in May. Traffic is growing nicely as can be seen on the Alexa chart below:

We are seemingly successful in creating some liquidity, but a lot of work remains to be done – on a local level there are still very few listings and still have very little organic traffic. It’s unclear whether all the features we have added have made a meaningful difference for users. Outside the U.S., traffic, while cheaper to obtain, does not convert to postings and replies as effectively – maybe because people are not used to classifieds.

It’s interesting that the main problem we have encountered to date has been spam – both in the listings and the replies to the listings. We’ve had to implement numerous counter measures to limit spam. This creates an interesting dilemma because we want to keep the site as simple as possible – and yet limit spam…

In the coming days we will release the beta version of the mobile version – people will be able to visit OLX by entering on their phone browser, we will add video support and poll users on potential new designs.

We’ll see how it goes – fingers crossed!

The Psychology of Happiness

I recently came across an amazing article on happiness. It is well researched, written and presented. Interestingly, maybe even ironically, it is written by analysts at an investment bank!

They find that most people have a mean level of happiness that is largely genetic and hard to deviate from as people quickly assimilate any changes in their life circumstances – a process called “hedonic adaptation.”

However, they do find 9 ways to systematically improve happiness (in no particular order):

1. Don’t equate happiness with money.
2. Exercise regularly.
3. Have sex.
4. Devote time and effort to close relationships.
5. Pause for reflection, meditate on the good things in life.
6. Seek work that engages your skills, look to enjoy your job.
7. Give your body the sleep it needs.
8. Don’t pursue happiness for its own sake, enjoy the moment.
9. Take control of your life, set yourself achievable goals.

Allmydata Update

Allmydata is an online virtual drive with backup, storage and sharing services.

Progress has been slower than expected, mostly because of the product choices we made early on in the design stage. To decrease costs, increase scalability and security, we chose to implement a peer to peer network as the underlying grid to backup and store users’ files on. This meant we had to build the grid prior to launching premium services. As a result the first version of Allmydata we launched required a downloadable PC client and for people to share local storage on their drive in order to get storage on the network.

That client does a lot of work – it breaks up the files in millions of little pieces, uploads them 4 times to thousands of computers on the grid and keeps the local files in sync with the grid. As a result, the early implementations of the client have been slower and more resource hungry than we would like. Things are moving in the right direction though. Allmydata beta 1.5 which was released on June 1 is faster and less resource intensive than the previous versions and has nice new features such as an icon overlay that tells you when your local files are being automatically backed up to Allmydata.

Just as interestingly now that we have thousands of customers on the network we are now in a position to launch our premium versions without requiring people to share local files. The next version of Allmydata coming in a few months will have:
• Web client
• Optional PC client with much lower memory footprint and Outlook support
• Premium versions that don’t require partaking in the grid

The space is competitive, but I have faith that if we build the easiest to use product with the lowest cost structure, we will find a way to create a nice business for ourselves.

Hypomanics to the rescue :)

In a recent interesting book “The Hypomanic Edge: The Link Between (A Little) Craziness and (a Lot of) Success in America” author John D. Gartner, an assistant professor of psychiatry at John Hopkins, argues that America’s success is because American entrepreneurs are largely hypomanic.

“Hypomania is a mild form of mania, often found in the relatives of manic depressives. Hypomanics are brimming with infectious energy, irrational confidence and really big ideas. They think, talk, move and make decisions quickly. Anyone who slows them down with questions “just doesn’t get it.” Hypomanics are not crazy, but “normal” is not the first word that comes to mind when describing them. Hypomanics live on the edge, between normal and abnormal.”

So why are Americans hypomanic? “Energy, drive, cockeyed optimism, entrepreneurial and religious zeal, Yankee ingenuity, messianism and arrogance – the traits have long been attributed to an “American character.” If a scientist wanted to design a giant Petri dish with all the right nutrients to make hypomanic genius flourish, he would be hard-pressed to imagine a better natural experiment than America. A “nation of immigrants” represents a highly skewered and unusual “self-selected” population. Do men and women who risk everything to leap into a new world differ temperamentally from those who stay home? It would be surprising if they didn’t.”

How do you identify a hypomanic? Gartner lists these traits: “He is filled with energy; flooded with ideas; driven, restless and unable to keep still; channels his energy into the achievement of wildly grand ambitions; often works on little sleep; feels brilliant, special, chosen, perhaps even destined to change the world; can be euphoric; becomes easily irritated by minor obstacles; is a risk taker; overspends in both his business and personal life; acts our sexually; sometimes acts impulsively, with poor judgment, in ways that have painful consequences; is fast-talking; witty and gregarious; charismatic and persuasive; prone to making enemies and feels he is persecuted by those who do not accept his vision and mission.” Sounds like an entrepreneur to me 🙂

Speaking of The Economist

I think many people don’t realize how funny it actually is. Their closing sentences for most articles are usually very sarcastic and they use a very ironic tone in many articles.

Some entire articles are hilarious. A few years ago, to criticize how far the negative externality argument had been taken in banning smoking, they wrote a very funny article on how babies should be banned from airplanes as they impose a negative externality on others – screams, noise and smells.

I suppose that was only trumped by the angry letters they received from parents who had taken the article literally 🙂

In praise of The Economist

In a world overrun by political correctness and where random local events pass as news for most people, it’s refreshing to read such an opiniated, analytical magazine covering world events.

Economist readers are easily recognized as they often talk about events happening in Eritrea, Uganda and other locales largely ignored by the traditional press. It’s actually somewhat amusing to see two people talking about a topic for which their only source material was the same magazine 🙂

I suppose I appreciate having a week to take a step back to analyze current world events. The quality seems to have slipped a bit in the past few years, but it remains by far the best magazine to read. If you can only read one magazine per week, this is it!

(If you are curious, I read The Economist, New Scientist, Forbes, Fortune, Business Week, Time, Entertainment Weekly, Premiere, PC Magazine,,,, and

Russian Dolls (Les Poupées Russes) is great, light hearted fun!

This is the rare sequel that much surpasses the original. L’Auberge Espanole was ok, but confusing and not that much fun. Russian Dolls’ exploration of life and love for the 20 and 30 something in Europe today is both charming and greatly entertaining. Highly recommended!

X-Men III is entertaining but ultimately disappointing

Ah, the problem of high expectations… I may have liked the Da Vinci code more than it deserved to be as I had low expectations in light of all the bad reviews on For X-Men III the trailer was so good and the reviews so glowing that I was eagerly awaiting the movie. Surprisingly, I did not connect to the characters as well as I had in the previous movies – possibly because the plot surrounding the cure overwhelmed the rest of the story line. It’s all the more surprising as the writers took more creative liberties than I would have expected by killing off or disabling several of the main characters (though maybe not forever in light of the last scene and the short clip after the credits are played). Ultimately the movie is entertaining, but not as good as the first two installments.

The Da Vinci Code is entertaining despite all the negative reviews

Yes the pace is a bit slow at the beginning, yes Audrey Tautou and Tom Hanks are terribly miscast (I would much have preferred Clive Owen, Matthew Fox – the Lost lead, a younger Harrison Ford or Pierce Brosman or an older Christian Bale), but ultimately the experience is satisfying. Ian McKellen is brilliant. The dialogues are good and the movie is faithful to the book. I can’t wait to see the movie adaptation of Angels & Demons!