How to Frame Negative Feedback as Forward-Facing Guidance 2020-02-09T02:47:37.230Z · score: 46 (18 votes)
The Power to Draw Better 2019-11-18T03:06:02.832Z · score: 37 (15 votes)
The Thinking Ladder - Wait But Why 2019-09-29T18:51:00.409Z · score: 21 (5 votes)
Is Specificity a Mental Model? 2019-09-28T22:53:56.886Z · score: 22 (6 votes)
The Power to Teach Concepts Better 2019-09-23T00:21:55.849Z · score: 83 (26 votes)
The Power to Be Emotionally Mature 2019-09-16T02:41:37.604Z · score: 26 (10 votes)
The Power to Understand "God" 2019-09-12T18:38:00.438Z · score: 16 (14 votes)
The Power to Solve Climate Change 2019-09-12T18:37:32.672Z · score: 30 (20 votes)
The Power to Make Scientific Breakthroughs 2019-09-08T04:14:14.402Z · score: 22 (6 votes)
Examples of Examples 2019-09-06T14:04:07.511Z · score: 19 (7 votes)
The Power to Judge Startup Ideas 2019-09-04T15:07:25.486Z · score: 86 (40 votes)
How Specificity Works 2019-09-03T12:11:36.216Z · score: 88 (44 votes)
The Power to Demolish Bad Arguments 2019-09-02T12:57:23.341Z · score: 84 (57 votes)
Specificity: Your Brain's Superpower 2019-09-02T12:53:55.022Z · score: 52 (27 votes)
What are the biggest "moonshots" currently in progress? 2019-09-01T19:41:22.556Z · score: 15 (7 votes)
Is there a simple parameter that controls human working memory capacity, which has been set tragically low? 2019-08-23T22:10:40.154Z · score: 16 (7 votes)
Is the "business cycle" an actual economic principle? 2019-06-18T14:52:00.348Z · score: 45 (14 votes)
Is "physical nondeterminism" a meaningful concept? 2019-06-16T15:55:58.198Z · score: 24 (6 votes)
What's the most annoying part of your life/job? 2016-10-23T03:37:55.440Z · score: 13 (16 votes)
Quick puzzle about utility functions under affine transformations 2016-07-16T17:11:25.988Z · score: 6 (7 votes)
You Are A Brain - Intro to LW/Rationality Concepts [Video & Slides] 2015-08-16T05:51:51.459Z · score: 13 (16 votes)
Wisdom for Smart Teens - my talk at SPARC 2014 2015-02-09T18:58:17.449Z · score: 15 (20 votes)
A proposed inefficiency in the Bitcoin markets 2013-12-27T03:48:56.031Z · score: 3 (34 votes)
Atkins Diet - How Should I Update? 2012-06-11T21:40:14.138Z · score: 2 (3 votes)
Quixey Challenge - Fix a bug in 1 minute, win $100. Refer a winner, win $50. 2012-01-19T19:39:58.264Z · score: 6 (45 votes)
Quixey is hiring a writer 2012-01-05T06:22:06.326Z · score: 10 (17 votes)
Quixey - startup applying LW-style rationality - hiring engineers 2011-09-28T04:50:45.130Z · score: 27 (28 votes)
Quixey Engineering Screening Questions 2010-10-09T10:33:23.188Z · score: 2 (19 votes)
Bloggingheads: Robert Wright and Eliezer Yudkowsky 2010-08-07T06:09:32.684Z · score: 6 (9 votes)
Selfishness Signals Status 2010-03-07T03:38:30.190Z · score: -1 (36 votes)
Med Patient Social Networks Are Better Scientific Institutions 2010-02-19T08:11:21.500Z · score: 37 (45 votes)
What is the Singularity Summit? 2009-09-16T07:18:06.675Z · score: 10 (19 votes)
You Are A Brain 2009-05-09T21:53:26.771Z · score: 114 (124 votes)


Comment by liron on March Coronavirus Open Thread · 2020-03-14T12:12:01.419Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This seems like a good time to sign up you and your loved ones for cryonics

Comment by liron on Coronavirus: Justified Practical Advice Thread · 2020-03-04T03:46:15.806Z · score: 2 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I think everyone should be stocking up on at least a month of food because survival-grade food is cheap and has at least a10% chance of being very useful to you at some point, either in this pandemic or for a different emergency.

Comment by liron on How to Frame Negative Feedback as Forward-Facing Guidance · 2020-02-10T18:47:47.713Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Ya this is a good example of how to communicate to Fred without a forward-facing frame.

This probably makes Fred think "I'm doing something wrong in meetings and I better fall in line", i.e. go from "bad" to "acceptable".

The forward-facing frame is for when you'd rather have Fred's mental model be to take the next step in the path toward "very good". Once you've established that forward-to-backward spectrum, it's then ok to also emphasize how his current position is bad.

I wouldn't start the feedback by saying there have been complaints about Fred. I'd only say that part after establishing a forward-facing frame, or not at all.

And to build on my heuristic from the previous comment: if Fred's whole job is a very structured one where "acceptable" and "very good" are basically the same state, that's when the forward-facing frame is least needed.

Comment by liron on How to Frame Negative Feedback as Forward-Facing Guidance · 2020-02-10T06:53:14.545Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This is a great point and I think I should preface the advice in the post with a condition.

If clear expectations have been set, e.g. needing to show up to work on time every day, then it’s optimal to have the employee represent in their mind that they have performed below standard. But when there’s any gray area about whether or not they’re meeting a standard, as is often the case for creative/knowledge workers, and your goal is to make them perform to their potential, then the forward-facing frame seems like a better technique rather than giving them a kind of negative assessment that they’re not expecting.

Comment by liron on Is there a simple parameter that controls human working memory capacity, which has been set tragically low? · 2020-01-06T23:39:31.480Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Hmmm interesting, thanks for posting this! Overall the fact that humans are so much smarter than chimps but still have the same-size tiny-on-any-absolute-scale symbolic working memory seems to support my original claim that this is a tragically sucky situation.

Comment by liron on Is there a simple parameter that controls human working memory capacity, which has been set tragically low? · 2020-01-06T14:22:23.432Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Wow as Vakus Drake said, looks like chimps have more working memory than us, at least in one sense that feels important:

Comment by liron on CFAR Participant Handbook now available to all · 2020-01-05T15:22:25.277Z · score: 32 (11 votes) · LW · GW

This content is a real gem. It's easy and fun to read, yet offers a high density of CFAR's unique insights which are worth knowing to improve your life. It also manages to speak to all rationality skill levels and knowledge.

I would love to see this content featured on CFAR's site, which is currently kind of a black box in terms of what specific "rationality" they teach. There's this FAQ answer that lists the topics of the workshop, but I suspect it's better to let prospective workshop attendees dive in more ahead of time if they're curious.

I was so inspired by how this handbook makes CFAR look good that we're now working on the same thing at my startup Relationship Hero, a public-facing handbook that will make our coaching less of a black box. Update: It's live here.

Comment by liron on Programmers Should Plan For Lower Pay · 2020-01-02T19:03:57.128Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Alright I shall update to a belief that maybe there’s some different dynamic that makes remote work less advantageous when an organization size is in the 10,000+ range.

What are all these “costs” that outweigh the benefits? I suspect they are easy enough to circumvent. My observation is that all the same tools being invented that make non-remote companies more productive (e.g. Slack) are usable remotely.

I’d still bet 1:1 odds that 2+ of the top 10 US companies by market cap in 5 years will allow more than 50% of their employed software engineers to work from anywhere.

Comment by liron on Programmers Should Plan For Lower Pay · 2020-01-02T18:57:21.290Z · score: 16 (4 votes) · LW · GW

You think I would use the language of belief probabilities as a figure of speech???

I’m up for $100 vs $100. Just send me a message at to confirm with your real identity.

Comment by liron on Programmers Should Plan For Lower Pay · 2020-01-02T02:58:22.802Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I don't have any hard data but I'd bet that the ratio of "work locations per market cap dollar" has been steadily increasing in the economy over the last few years. (A measure of how distributed each company's workforce is, and weighting higher-market-cap companies higher.)

I also bet more than 50% chance that within 3 years at least one of {Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon} will give more than 50% of their software engineers the ability to work from home for at least 80% of their workdays.

The fact that Stripe ($30B+ valuation) is now actively hiring many remote employees is a significant recent anecdote I can offer. Do you have any significant anecdotes indicating a remote work decrease?

Comment by liron on Programmers Should Plan For Lower Pay · 2020-01-01T11:18:26.777Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

But every sufficiently large organization is already distributed across lots of offices and timezones. Why should we expect the distinction between “on-site” and “off-site” work to be relevant to productivity if on-site work is already remotely distributed?

The inside view is: even if you’re in the same office with all the people who matter to your job, most of your job is done by you interfacing with your computer. Even when I did the whole “live with your startup cofounder in a 2BR apartment” thing, we worked in separate rooms and interacted via text. So what specific interactions happen in meatspace that are durably necessary for increased productivity in our increasingly virtual world, and can’t be compensated for by any creative remote-work best practices?

It seems obvious to me that the answer is nothing.

Comment by liron on Programmers Should Plan For Lower Pay · 2019-12-30T16:40:58.959Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm confident that the larger trend is the opposite of the examples you've witnessed. Sure, big companies who wake up to the importance of having engineering resources might first get the idea to hire them in-house, but remote work is clearly a huge trend throughout the economy. One way to understand this is that even "in-house" often means that a company's own employees are working across national/international offices or working from home.

Comment by liron on Why is the mail so much better than the DMV? · 2019-12-30T02:29:26.678Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think competition explains a lot of it. Using USPS instead of UPS or Fedex is a free-market choice, but I don’t have much choice where to get electricity for my home or where to get a driver’s license after moving to a new state.

Comment by liron on Programmers Should Plan For Lower Pay · 2019-12-29T13:03:48.896Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

From my other comment:

What kind of workers are producing more value? What are the characteristics of a job that enables more value creation? One where there's more leverage, i.e. an hour of work produces more economic value, without a corresponding increase in supply.

Another example of a sector that's seeing much higher economic leverage is white-collar work serving high-cost-of-living countries/cities from within lower-cost-of-living countries/cities. E.g. English-speaking workers from our neighbor Mexico where real income per capita is only 28% of the US's, can now create more value on their time by working from home and copy editing articles, or doing phone customer service, or graphic design, and even management-level work like marketing strategy and project management.

Unfortunately remote workers' leverage increase here is partly zero-sum because it decreases the economic leverage that local workers get from their location. But it's actually positive sum because poorer people tend to benefit from a wealth transfer more than richer people lose. It's also positive sum because some jobs are only worth paying below the local living wage. E.g. a San Francisco company might be able to afford paying $12/hr for a customer service representative, which is far below cost of living in the SF Bay Area, but not bad in Mississippi.

Remote work has also created higher leverage on the value of everyone's haven't-gotten-dressed time or currently-babysitting time, regardless of their previous baseline.

Also note that one type of remote white-collar work is programming. Companies hiring their in-house software engineers offshore to work remotely, or contracting with offshore software consultancies, is also an increasingly common practice which is helping other economies and raising US GDP while reducing US programmer salaries, but the US salary effect is small because the whole world's programmer supply is still not keeping pace with global demand growth.

Comment by liron on Programmers Should Plan For Lower Pay · 2019-12-29T12:44:27.348Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Ah right yes, ok so not a huge increase. Meanwhile, I've seen real value of entry-level programmer compensation packages at least double since 2000, probably more like triple.

I think my point about GDP growth helping the outside view is this: *some* significant chunks of sectors in the economy are getting significantly more productive. What kind of workers are producing more value? What are the characteristics of a job that enables more value creation? One where there's more leverage, i.e. an hour of work produces more economic value, without a corresponding increase in supply. And any sector where the leverage on time is increasing say 5x+ per decade is a good bet for an area where supply is trailing demand.

Comment by liron on Programmers Should Plan For Lower Pay · 2019-12-29T03:38:01.406Z · score: 22 (10 votes) · LW · GW

We don't understand why programmers are paid so well

It might be pretty straightforward.

GDP is 2x higher than in 2000Real GDP per capita is up 25% since 2000, so some category of workers must have gotten at least 2x more productive in that timeframe, so their real income should be 2x higher. That seems like a plausible story for the software engineering career.

This simplified model is consistent with my inside view. I can help sufficiently big companies save $millions/yr, or earn $millions/yr more, by writing software that streamlines some detail of their internal processes or external interactions. And my ability to do this is obviously much higher thanks to all the tools that exist today that didn’t exist in 2000: cloud computing, tons of third-party APIs, ubiquitous mobile phones with fast chips and internet connections, huge high-resolution monitors, Stack Overflow, etc.

The tech entrepreneur and investor Naval Ravikant talks a lot about how “leveraging yourself up” is the key to getting rich. E.g. these days Joe Rogan makes $1M for recording a 90-min podcast because he built a following. He has distribution as leverage.

Programming in the internet age is an unprecedentedly huge source of economic leverage on human capital. A doctor or lawyer sells an hour of their time with a limited impact multiplier - they benefit one patient or one party in one case. In contrast, it keeps getting more common throughout the economy for an hour of a programmer’s time to give value to thousands or millions of customers. Plus, the programmers are constantly getting better tools to get 10x more functionality built in that hour of time than was possible a few years ago. For example, building a basic form to accept a credit card payment has gone from taking days to minutes thanks to Stripe, a company that launched in 2010 and is now worth $30B. But they didn’t just make themselves rich, they added to the leverage that the rest of us have. It’s a real leveragefest.

It seems like software will continue to “eat the world” and add tons of economic value for a while. At the very least I’d confidently bet on another decade where supply increases much more slowly than demand, and the gap between career appeal of doctors/lawyers and software engineers will widen further in that time.

Comment by liron on The Power to Solve Climate Change · 2019-10-24T17:33:24.912Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yep I'm sympathetic to your post. As for the counterargument, I have two rebuttals:

1. I would agree if we were talking about e.g. money-limited people donating small token amounts to effective charities to build their identities, but "one who limits personal carbon footprint outside of a strategy to stop global warming" isn't even an identity people should want :)

2. Even if we give up on talking about strong causal mechanisms and just talk about weak effects of one's carbon-footprint-reduction efforts like "raising awareness of the issue", there's also the self-licensing effect where people are satisfied to think of themselves as a good person after just taking one or two actions, so actions that don't help can drive out actions that would have helped.

Comment by liron on Make more land · 2019-10-16T21:53:54.705Z · score: 8 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Awesome, I think the Western world currently has a shortage of specific ambitious proposals like this. Strong upvote.

In Zero to One, Peter Thiel calls this "definite future" mindset and specifically mentions the Reber Plan as an example.

Comment by liron on Reflections on Premium Poker Tools: Part 3 - What I've learned · 2019-10-14T18:00:20.558Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think many of the people who were commenting in your threads would have been up to let you interview them in a video chat if you’d DM’d them at the time. I don’t think it should take more than 10 DMs to get a video interview with this kind of approach.

Comment by liron on Reflections on Premium Poker Tools: Part 3 - What I've learned · 2019-10-14T13:41:52.917Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Can you link to specific posts you've made in relevant communities for poker and/or startups asking for feedback or discussion about your ideas? If they get 1k+ views then I'd expect at least one or two leads to come out of such a post.

Comment by liron on Reflections on Premium Poker Tools: Part 3 - What I've learned · 2019-10-13T23:49:45.421Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Well it's not surprising that someone on a forum who said they love your app weeks or months ago is probably not super likely to respond to a DM now. There's just a general level of flakiness that suits all of us to partake in to some degree.

How about DMing 10 users who have commented in the poker reddit in the last 48 hours and asking if they'd do you a favor and answer questions about their poker interest on a video call? I bet you'd get a couple takers. Until I understand why your specific situation is best helped by an email list of early adopters, I'm skeptical that your value prop generalizes the way you think it does.

Comment by liron on Reflections on Premium Poker Tools: Part 3 - What I've learned · 2019-10-12T23:29:20.594Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW
With the poker app, I found that the poker subreddit, other poker forums, in person networking, and cold emails didn't amount to enough leads.
[...] I think the success of this platform idea we're talking about depends a good amount on the answer to that question, because if founders are currently doing fine with customer outreach, then it wouldn't really be solving a problem for them.

No question that acquiring leads/customers is a huge problem for a huge number of businesses. Google and Facebook are worth a combined $trillion because they sell a solution to that problem.

I just don't think an "email list of early adopters" would have helped you acquire leads more than you can already help yourself by using existing forums that aggregate poker-lovers plus existing forums that aggregate people who are open to testing startups.

You probably think whoever currently follows Product Hunt is a good candidate to be on your email list, if only Product Hunt had a section for pre-launch companies. Well, it's not hard to look up 100 PH users' emails and blast them an email to take a look at your poker bot :) you can target PH people who have liked poker-related products. This would constitute an MVP of testing your idea, even though on the surface you might not imagine it as such.

But my impression is that a) many founders struggle to get in touch with these sorts of early adopters, and b) even if they are successfully getting in touch with some, they'd still want more. Of course, this is a hypothesis that could be validated without actually building anything, eg. by talking to founders.

Before talking to other founders, a good first step is to convince yourself you would be a passionate user of this, which I'm skeptical about. E.g. would you pay $50/month for access? (This $50 threshold is a generally-applicable stronger version of the Value Prop Story test.)

Comment by liron on Planned Power Outages · 2019-10-12T21:45:24.522Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Good point about everyone needing to have backup plans for power outages.

Another observation is: It’s crazy that few people were aware that an outage would be happening with elevated probability until the day of. It probably would have avoided $1B in marginal lost productivity to have proper communication.

Comment by liron on Reflections on Premium Poker Tools: Part 3 - What I've learned · 2019-10-12T11:51:29.242Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW
What do you think? I lean slightly towards thinking that you disagree, because you initially said that founders shouldn't worry too much about market size. If so, what is the thought process behind that? Because you think there's a route to "grow the pie" for any product? Because at an early stage your goal is to be nimble and figure out what direction to run in?

It's good to think about the market and where you can grow it. Paul Graham asks "What Microsoft is this the Altair Basic of?" If you can tap into early passionate users and an exponential growth rate of revenue (or at least usage), and the business is inherently scalable (i.e. not a local diner), then it's hard to be confident that the growth rate will slam into a wall in the near future, but it's also then quick to test whether you can keep the exponential curve going or not. So the question of whether the idea is good approximately reduces to the question of whether you can get a traction and growth curve going, and that's usually the highest priority thing to focus on proving. Sometimes you might convince yourself that the market has very little potential even if you do get early passionate users with a good early growth rate, but it's a rare outcome and often worth giving it a shot and following where it goes.

Huh. I thought it would be the opposite. That people have egos that are too big and they think they're more important than they actually are. Or are you saying that I personally don't have a big ego, because I'm having this conversation?

Salespeople typically deal with flakiness and rejection all day. A big part of their job is to relentlessly hound their prospects. I did some sales outreach the other day trying to get affiliate partnerships and it doesn't feel good to be reaching out to a bunch of people and getting ignored and turned down. But on the other side of the table, when salespeople pester me, I may be slightly annoyed at the spam but I understand they're playing a game and I don't hate them for it.

Re the "early adopters email list" idea:

Try making the Value Prop Story more specific by identifying an actual specific person on one or both sides of the 2-sided business, and explain why specifically they need a new email list beyond what exists now.

Are you specifically an example of the "early adopter" you have in mind? Am I an early adopter? I don't know because that's a vague term. I'm curious to skim descriptions of e.g. a cool new database, but not happy to adopt it. I'm unlikely to early-adopt a new beauty product.

I'm guessing that you launching your poker software is an example of a target user on the looking-for-early-adopter-feedback side of the equation. Is "email list for early adopters" really that big of a win for what you needed? It seems like the Poker subreddit and other poker communities should already have had enough leads you could email about testing your product.

Your original Value Prop Story should probably already about the kind of person you have access to in your life, depending on what field you're working on, so I'm skeptical that what founders really need is an email list of early adopters. And if they do just need that, there's already Product Hunt, Hacker News, startups reddit,,, tons of incubators/accelerators who offer advising,, etc.

Comment by liron on Reflections on Premium Poker Tools: Part 3 - What I've learned · 2019-10-12T11:20:45.231Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You can always chart a path that maximizes your rate of validated learning / de-risking your biggest risks. Like if you’re building something huge, build the most uncertain parts first. Yes sometimes a project is inherently slow and capital-intensive but that’s rare and most people who think their startup is that exception are actually just being sucked into the most common fatal attractor.

Whenever I ask any employee or contractor to do a project, I always say show me the first half-baked sign of progress after 1 day of work. I never want someone to do a bunch of work on a project that has any kind of risk without a quick feedback loop. I try my best to avoid trusting that it’ll all work out sometime later.

Comment by liron on Reflections on Premium Poker Tools: Part 3 - What I've learned · 2019-10-12T04:05:05.235Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That makes sense, but only if you have a plausible path to growing the size of the market.

I can imagine that someone could make poker software that makes poker more fun and addictive, pulling more people into learning to play well who otherwise wouldn’t have bothered. Peloton got regular people interested in indoor cycling. Codecademy got regular people learning to code. It’s possible to demonstrate signs of this potential just by having passionate early users and a sturdy growth rate starting from a small baseline.

And [grabbing specific people and manually stuffing value into them] seems like a really important thing for founders to understand.

Ya my whole blog is about founders not understanding this.

It makes me feel really uneasy though, because I don't want to be spammy. What are your thoughts on that?

  1. Your own ego will already bias you toward not putting yourself out there enough.
  2. People and companies have robust spam defenses/habits already built up from more powerful spammers than you’ll ever be. For example, they habitually ignore plenty of messages and emails they get.

Also, when you narrow down what your MVP is to the point where it’s almost by definition an incremental improvement in one specific person’s life, you should feel more confident to attempt to do a Collison Installation on that person. If it doesn’t work out, they should be able to understand why you were convinced this would be worth their time, even if you were wrong.

BTW, one of my unfleshed ideas is to have a platform that connects self-proclaimed early adopters with early stage founders. Maybe the early adopters would get access to products discounts or something for being on the platform, and early stage founders would have to pay to be on the platform. I plan on fleshing this out and writing about it some time in the future. It easily could turn out to be a bad idea; just thought I'd mention it.

I dunno, try giving a specific value prop story ( illustrating why it’s much better than Product Hunt.

Comment by liron on Reflections on Premium Poker Tools: Part 3 - What I've learned · 2019-10-12T03:40:48.201Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Tons of amazingly insightful points packed into a small essay. I was paraphrasing the “Vector” section.

Another good concept from that post is the “Collison Installation”. I also like to call it manhandling your traction.

Comment by liron on Reflections on Premium Poker Tools: Part 3 - What I've learned · 2019-10-12T03:35:32.165Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The Lean Startup by Eric Ries explains “MVP” as a broader concept of a tool to obtain validated learning. Getting traction is a special case of learning for companies whose most pressing question is whether people really want what they’re building. This special case encompasses most startups. But SpaceX had less doubt about demand for wildly cheaper launches and more doubt about technical feasibility, so an engine test firing was a kind of MVP for them.

Comment by liron on Reflections on Premium Poker Tools: Part 4 - Smaller things that I've learned · 2019-10-11T03:55:06.947Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Re poker pros not understanding the ROI of your software:

When you build a better tool/platform but people/companies refuse to use it, you can often just use your own tool to compete with them at their business. In this case that would mean training yourself to kick their ass at poker.

If your tool can’t let you do that, maybe find an up & coming poker star who you set up with your tool and you could somehow invest in the upside of their winnings.

Comment by liron on Reflections on Premium Poker Tools: Part 3 - What I've learned · 2019-10-11T03:42:39.924Z · score: -4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

More evidence that it takes a lot to actually get people to look in your direction, and that customer acquisition is hard.

People are lazy and irrational

Yes, we all are to some degree. For example, I was a self taught pianist for 15 years before I finally got rational enough to hire a piano teacher because I predicted it would vastly increase my learning rate, and sure enough there was a ton of low hanging fruit I learned. It’s just that seeking and hiring the teacher had friction/hassle and risk of not working out, so didn’t feel appealing.

Comment by liron on Reflections on Premium Poker Tools: Part 3 - What I've learned · 2019-10-11T03:36:29.265Z · score: -1 (4 votes) · LW · GW

How about this for affiliate outreach:

  1. Email some hard core online poker players and ask if you can get on a video call to ask their advice about poker software you’re building.
  2. On the call, ask them to show you their workflow how they play online with helper software open.
  3. Then show them your software and specifically show what it would look like in their exact scenario, and get their thoughts.

I’m not sure your software is used during an online game like that, but my point is you want to really spoon feed them into realizing the value of your software to get them to actually care about it and use it.

Comment by liron on Reflections on Premium Poker Tools: Part 3 - What I've learned · 2019-10-11T03:31:35.738Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

They [Y Combinator] talk a lot about focusing heavily on the product, as opposed to marketing it. I at least get the impression from them that making something people want is what it's all about, and that if you manage to do so, you'll have success.

Well, it’s an important fact that most startups fail by not making something people want, so “make something people want” is the best 4-word advice, but you also need a customer acquisition mechanism and it can be fatal if you can’t find one.

In fact I think difficulty with customer acquisition, i.e. customer acquisition costs tanking the business’s unit economics, is the second biggest startup killer after not making something people want.

Paul Graham made the point that these days when you want to judge a startup idea, you’re actually judging the idea pair (what you’re doing that people want, how you acquire customers).

Comment by liron on Reflections on Premium Poker Tools: Part 3 - What I've learned · 2019-10-11T03:12:53.387Z · score: -4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If the top bestselling poker book sold 100k copies total, that might be 10k copies/yr, meaning the book’s profits are under $100k/yr and the author’s cut is less.

Comment by liron on Reflections on Premium Poker Tools: Part 3 - What I've learned · 2019-10-11T03:08:49.431Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The Poker subreddit only has 100k subscribers, and it’s a much bigger commitment for people to buy poker software than read a subreddit. So it seems plausible that the total market is only 1k users, but you never know.

Founders shouldn’t worry too much about market size, just focus on getting early users and growing the user base at some rate like 10%/month. For example, Uber has grown beyond the total market size of taxis. Peloton has grown beyond what many people might have guessed was the market size of people who want a home exercise bike. Microsoft’s original market was BASIC programmers.

To be able to direct your effort toward where it will make a difference, you need to get a feedback loop going where you give people value and observe the consequences. You made a quality piece of software that could give people value in theory, but in practice value usually can’t be transmitted without an intense manual effort at sales/delivery/onboarding. The way to give people value is to grab specific people and manually stuff your value into them.

Most startups have to manually hunt down their initial traction one customer at a time. It almost always takes a long time to get momentum going where you don’t have to spend manual effort and resources to acquire the next incremental customer.

Comment by liron on Reflections on Premium Poker Tools: Part 3 - What I've learned · 2019-10-11T02:39:16.559Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

SpaceX’s goal is “settle Mars”, its MVP was “build a low-earth orbit launch system”, and sub-MVPs of that (experiments to validate the highest-uncertainty thing they needed to validate) consisted of things like engine test firings.

Comment by liron on Reflections on Premium Poker Tools: Part 1 - My journey · 2019-10-10T21:00:54.266Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Sure feel free to DM.

In my mind at the time, the "specific people" part was already validated due to the fact that hundreds of thousands of people use Flopzilla and similar apps, or so I thought.

"Person who uses Flopzilla" isn't maximally specific, compared to knowing their name and talking to them :)

Comment by liron on Reflections on Premium Poker Tools: Part 1 - My journey · 2019-10-10T16:50:29.035Z · score: 7 (4 votes) · LW · GW

This is a great authentic diary of a certain type of smart startup founder's experience. I'm sure there have been dozens of other founders who have similar stories and never wrote them up like this.

But I really question whether the lean startup applies to this particular scenario. I know you want to avoid wasting time building things that people don't actually want. That's like the biggest startup sin there is. I know. But like, what am I supposed to do?

Yep, that's the internal monologue of most founders. The siren song is "Surely I can't put this in front of users this week". You have to be Odysseus ignoring the sirens.

My hypothesis is that once my app gets to the point where it's in the ballpark of Flopzilla or better, that people will want to use it. It takes time to get to that point. There isn't really a quick two week MVP I could build to test that hypothesis. I'm already trying to avoid building non-essential features, and focus on getting to that point as quickly as possible. So what am I supposed to do?

The goal is to validate that specific people exist who have a need for what you're building. But the "specific people" part of that sentence is more important than the "what you're building" part. Identify them now and talk to them, then ask yourself what is the minimal thing you can do to get them engaged with your product/service.

When you scope a product for only one specific workflow of one specific person, it can be much leaner than what you otherwise would have built as an MVP.

Re needing to be better than Flopzilla: If a specific target user is currently using Flopzilla, how about a workflow where they keep Flopzilla open but also your product at the same time, and they pull up your product in a few narrow situations where it's differentiated from Flopzilla? It'll be a janky experience, and that's fine. It should be possible to get a few specific users using something janky like that as your initial validation.

Comment by liron on Is Specificity a Mental Model? · 2019-09-30T07:54:16.151Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah nice

Comment by liron on Follow-Up to Petrov Day, 2019 · 2019-09-29T00:54:16.687Z · score: 10 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for doing this! It was a cool unique experience, and good for community-bonding all us LWers.

Comment by liron on The Power to Teach Concepts Better · 2019-09-28T22:50:44.163Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW
In particular I got seriously stuck with "blizzard is -$100". This is a pretty alien way to express things to me. [...] Now I am tangled with problems with the auxillary tools and the point is obscured. [...] If we stayed at more abstract level then my disagremeent on the details would not similarly interfere.

But if you're stuck on how to model driving through the blizzard as having a utility-value of -$100, it means that you would have been stuck on any explanation of "avoid the sunk-cost fallacy" until you understand how that kind of utility-scoring works.

So the specific example was superior to the general statement in revealing where the remaining hole in your understanding is.

Now you can patch the hole yourself by looking up utility-scoring. Alternately, I could have anticipated that not all readers would know about utility-scoring, and explained that in an "earlier chapter", but it doesn't fundamentally undermine the value of specificity and mind-anchors to teach concepts better.

Comment by liron on Long-term Donation Bunching? · 2019-09-28T20:00:53.930Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Hmm I actually think there might be a psychologically optimal idea close to this.

Let’s say you expect to earn $200k/yr for the next 10 years and you want to donate 10% of your income to charity, which is $20k/yr over 10 years, which has a net present value of about $100k. Sell someone an Income Share Agreement (ISA) for $100k which you donate now, then pay the ISA 10% of your income for 10 years.

This could be, like you say, a good commitment mechanism for your present self to get the upper hand over your future self. The ISA protects the downside risk of having a loan you can’t pay if your income unexpectedly decreases.

Comment by liron on The Power to Teach Concepts Better · 2019-09-26T13:45:55.367Z · score: 7 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah I know what you mean. I think in most cases, even for startup ideas, this might be a good template:

  1. Extremely brief abstract statement - the YC application actually starts by asking “describe your startup in 50 characters or less” before asking “what is your startup going to make?” And I bet Paul Graham reads that first!

  2. Concrete example as mind-anchor

  3. Abstract claims

As others have pointed out, #1 can be something of a “motivation-anchor” for caring about #2 because you want to know where the example is going before you start listening to it.

1+2 together are a mental-model “boot loader” for #3. And I think it’s important for #1 not to tax working memory so it can be free to focus mostly on #2.

Comment by liron on The Power to Teach Concepts Better · 2019-09-25T14:54:13.839Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Nice ya anchor seems like a better image than hanger, and Paul Graham could have just as easily written “something to anchor my mind on”.

Comment by liron on The Power to Teach Concepts Better · 2019-09-25T05:06:12.947Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks! I’m definitely open to calling it something other than “mind-hanger”. I called it that because I’ve never seen anyone call it anything except Paul Graham writing “something to hang the application on in my mind”.

Here’s what I think a mind-hanger (or other term X) refers to: before you can build a new structure in your mind that you can expect to remember and reason about, you need to start by thinking about mind-hangers/X’s that are already well-established in your web of preexisting knowledge and intuitions.

I think I also realized another specificity-angle to this (in addition to “specifics are good mind-hangers”):

When you endeavor to teach someone a concept, you want them to come away with that concept connected to their preexisting knowledge and intuitions. Ok, which specific preexisting knowledge and intuitions? Don’t rely on the person to hang your lessons in some unspecified way. Pick a specific mind-hanger and surgically install your lesson on it.

Comment by liron on The Power to Teach Concepts Better · 2019-09-23T19:23:38.485Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

In the "Teach With Examples First" section, I make Gowers's point that sliding down the ladder of abstraction is a good source of universal mind-hangers.

Comment by liron on The Power to Solve Climate Change · 2019-09-19T00:51:47.288Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW
I'm not seeing much difference in 'definitedness' between personal behavior change and "world organization that sets per-country targets" unless it's just that solving global warming necessarily must involve global government.

Yes, I think some minimal level of global coordination may be necessary, and is very likely to play a significant causal role in the eventual outcome. For example, I think the US should feel more comfortable investing in a certain amount of carbon emissions reduction/sequestration knowing that other countries are officially supposed to also do their part.

In contrast, whether individuals focus any effort on reducing their footprint outside of their main system of economic incentives is definitely not going to have a causal role on the outcome.

Comment by liron on The Power to Understand "God" · 2019-09-17T15:05:35.467Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW
But the set of hypotheses "X does not exist" doesn't contain both sides of the isomorphism, so the obvious argument doesn't carry through.

I figured anyone who thinks proving non-existence is extra hard also probably lacks a sufficiently thought-out concept of "existence" to convincingly make that claim :)

But ok, to engage more with the parent: My atheism takes the form "For all God-concepts I've heard of, my attempt to make them specific has either yielded something wrong like Helios, or meaningless like belief-in-belief or perhaps a bad word choice like 'God is probability'".

If the set of all God-concepts I've heard were empty, I wouldn't have the need to say I'm an atheist. That's why the burden of proof is actually on the God-concept-proposers.

Comment by liron on How Specificity Works · 2019-09-17T03:12:37.604Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Hey lionhearted, thanks for your kind words!

This is just kinda "ah, thank you, this is valuable — but you know, you're like 95% correct, you're just missing ________" — what's the blank line there?

Hm, colleges and lectures have various justifications for existing that are valid 5% of the time, that seems obvious enough, even if I didn't acknowledge it in the post... I guess I'll try to privately puzzle out your intended subtext.

Comment by liron on How Specificity Works · 2019-09-17T00:46:09.698Z · score: 8 (4 votes) · LW · GW

^ The Power to Compliment Effectively

Thanks, appreciate it!

Comment by liron on The Power to Understand "God" · 2019-09-16T18:21:25.822Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'd refer you to