Lesson from the Gold Rush

I spent last Saturday touring San Francisco in an open-top tourist bus. It was quite a bit of fun I must say. How often do you get to be a tourist close to home?

I learnt quite a bit about the history of San Francisco and the California Gold Rush. Apparently, less than 2% of the people who came looking for gold actually found any.

Interestingly, though, there were a few people that made quite a bit of money during the gold rush and they weren’t looking for gold! Levi Strauss and Sam Brannan, are two great examples. Both made a lot of money off providing supplies to the those looking to strike rich.

It’s a useful lesson in life. If you want to succeed, you may want to look for a very strong trend or market behavior and figure out how to attach yourself to it. You don’t need to be part of that market, even supporting or supplying that market can help you. This is true if you are thinking of your own career, or a company you want to start.

For example, consider the Internet of Things (IoT). So many different things are happening there, it’s crazy. It is very clear that IoT will be big, but it’s not clear which of the “things” will be big. Or which of the companies building the “things” will be big (other than Google-owned Nest, maybe).

However, it’s clear that IoT will present new challenges in big data, security and communication infrastructures. Therefore, if you want to benefit off IoT, you can focus on these three challenges and still be successful thanks to the aggressive growth of IoT. This way, you don’t need to bet on a specific “thing”, or product, but rather on a major trend that is clearly important and massive in size. Cisco is doing this.

So, take a few minutes to stop and think – are you currently doing something that is part of a major trend? One that can propel you to success? If not, are you sure you are doing the right thing?

Clearing your mind – with a bookcase

It all started when my wife, Noa, called me over to look at “something beautiful”. As one could expect, “something beautiful” is a $1500 Crate and Barrel bookcase. Being the minimalist that I am, the price tag was completely out-there for me. $1500 for a bookcase? Excluding tax? No way.

“Too expensive. Besides, I can build this myself.”, I said. Apparently, I said that out loud.

And that’s how I found myself spending a couple of days during the weekend building two bookcases that “need to look like Crate and Barrel’s”. As it turns out, It’s not a lot of work. Besides, the good pals at The Home Depot were amazing. They really helped me figure out the steps, even though using galvanized steel pipes to build a bookcase sounded like a bit of an odd idea. This is how it ended up looking:

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As I was building these bookcases (instructions below) I noticed something: my mind was 100% focused on getting it right. I didn’t have time at all to think about other things – most notably the 100 different day-to-day items that are normally running through my mind. You see, ever since I started indeni all those years ago, I’ve been thinking about it 24/7. It was very difficult to shut my mind off. Even when I was on vacation for a few days here and there, my mind wouldn’t stop. I’d find myself writing notes, sending myself emails, reading emails and other vacation-forbidden activities.

But – when you’re focused on not spray-painting yourself, or putting the wrong screw in, you can’t think about anything else. Besides, if you try to touch your phone, it’ll end up covered in wood stain.

Finishing the work I came back with renewed energies to tackle the complex day-to-day issues. It’s like my mind has recharged and now has more ability as well as more tools to deal with the toughest challenges.

So – my takeaway – find more furniture to copy off of known stores. It’s a way to save money, take your mind off things and maybe, just maybe, an opportunity to create something else you can be proud of.

Now, for the instructions:

The bookcase is basically a few brown shelves placed on a black pipe-based frame. The instructions below are for one bookcase with five shelves. You’ll need:

  • Shelves. I went to The Home Depot and had them cut 12″ by 43″ pieces of light-colored wood (don’t remember its name). I used 1/2″ thick wood, but in hindsight recommend 3/4″ or maybe 1″.
  • Wood stain and other accessories – to stain the shelves in the color you want. I used American Walnut.
  • Pipes. Lots of them. I used 1/2″ pipes and I think they’d be good even if you use thicker shelves. I used galvanized pipes because I like their weight:
    • 10 pipes that are as long as the width of the shelves, in my case, 12″. These will be holding the shelves (one at each side of the shelf).
    • 16 pipes that are as long as the height you want between shelves. I wanted 18″ (between the top of a given shelf and the bottom of the shelf above it), so 18″ pipes.
    • NOTE: Buying so many pipes pre-cut is expensive at The Home Depot. You can instead by 10′ (that’s feet, not inch) pipes and have them cut the pipes for you. You’ll have some leftovers, but it’ll be way cheaper. I did that and it took them less than a day to get it done. Make sure to ask them to thread the pipes – so that you can screw them into the Tees.
    • 20 Tees. These look like T intersections, but for pipes. Make sure to buy 1/2″ tees and not those ones where each hole is of a different size.
    • 20 pipe straps. These also should be galvanized and designed for 1/2″ pipes.
    • 4 short pipe nipples (also 1/2″).
    • 4 floor flanges for 1/2″ pipes. These will be the “feet” of your book case and I call them bases further down.
  • 40 Screws – you’ll need wooden screws that are a bit shorter than the thickness of your shelves and small enough to fit through the holes in the pipe straps.
  • 4 spray paint cans. I used a black color that looks very “flat” – not glossy, shiny or anything like that. I like how it came out.
  • A pair of gloves – highly recommended to protect your hands from all this paint.
  • A pack of Grime Boss wet wipes – because the gloves don’t cover your entire body.
  • A mask to cover your mouth when you use the spray paint.

Now, for the process. I’m oversimplifying the steps here, just ask the relevant Home Depot guy or gal on how to do it (in Piping, Paint, Hardware, Tools…):

  • Take the shelves and use the wood stain on them.
  • Take the pipe bases and screw the short pipe nipples into them.
  • Take the four tees and screw them onto each pipe nipple.
  • Take two 12″ pipes and screw them into the central hole in the tees so as two connect two tees with each pipe. Now you have the base of the frame. Note that the two parts are not connected to one another and will never be in this design. So you may want to continue building each of them separately so they don’t fall on you.
  • Take the 18″ pipes and screw into the top of the tees you have screwed the 12″ (and short nipples) into. Now screw tees on top of those, and connect the two tees with 12″ pipes, etc. etc.
  • Once you screw all the pipes in you should find yourself with two separate frames that look exactly the same. One will be used on the left side of the book case, the other on the right. If you’ve done your job well, these frames should be capable of standing by themselves with nothing holding them, including yourself.
  • Now the fun begins! Use the spray paint to cover the entire frame from top to bottom and all sides. It should dry within an hour, after which you should go for a second coat.
  • I recommend using the spray paint to paint those pipe straps too, looks a lot better once you’ll connect the shelves with them.
  • Now, you need the help of one or two other people, so go get’em.
  • Have the other people hold the frames up at the distance you want them to be and put one shelf on the two frames – ideally the middle shelf. Use this setup to decide how much of the shelf you want hanging off each side and mark the center of the 12″ pipes on it.
  • Take the shelf off and use your marking to screw in the four pipe straps to the bottom of the shelf. The pipe straps should be 2″ from the long edges of the shelf. Now take out those pipe straps. What you just did was make the holes in the bottom of the shelf while it’s still on the ground instead of after putting it on the frame.
  • You’ve done this, because now you need to copy the holes to all the other shelves – same distance from all the edges. This is IMPORTANT so that your bookcase doesn’t end up all crooked.
  • Now, back to those other people helping you. You need them to hold the frames up again.
  • Place the middle shelf on the frame and screw the pipestraps into the shelf in a way that attached the shelf to the 12″ pipes. Now those pipes are holding the shelf – very cool, eh?
  • Next, the shelf above the middle shelf. Then the others.
  • You’ll notice that the bookcase is very unstable. It easily moves left and right. This is because of the way the shelves are attached to the frame and will only be solved by attaching the bookcase to the wall. For this, I bought two extra pipe straps and the required screws+anchors to get the bookcase fixed to the wall. I did the fixing just above the second shelf from the top. That way it cannot be seen.
  • You’ll also notice that to attach the lowest shelf you need to lift the entire frame in the air. I used small chairs to hold up the frame while I crawled underneath it. Of course, two people were still holding the frame so it doesn’t fall on me.
  • For the bit more perfectionists of us – you can also buy some black paint and cover the screws you’ve used to attach the pipe straps. Looks better than having those light-gray screws stick out.

That’s it! Have fun!

Turning the pyramid into a funnel: a way of helping people achieve

In sales there is a concept called “a sales funnel”. It looks like an upside-down pyramid, similar to this:


What this funnel represents is the journey of a person from being just a lead (someone you are interested in, or may be interested in you) to a sale (someone who bought your product). Naturally, there are more people who are leads than those that actually buy. Along the way, they “drop off” for various reasons (not really interested in your product, don’t have budget, etc.).

Funnels are measured in stages and conversion rates – that is, what are the chances of someone to go from stage A to B (let’s say 50%), and then from B to C (let’s say 30%), and so on. Also, due to the nature of mathematics, you can easily calculate the chances of them going from stage A to E, by multiplying the percentages (50% * 30%, etc.). There is a general notion that you can improve the conversion rates (chances of a person going from one stage to another) by taking a closer look at those who do convert vs those who don’t, and take corrective action. Corrective action includes trying to find more of those who do convert or changing the way you interact with potential customers. Experience shows that changing the way you interact with them is a much better way of achieving higher conversion rates.

Now, many aspects in life are represented as pyramids. For example wealth (richest at the top, poorest at the bottom), academic achievement (professors at the top, uneducated at the bottom), etc. Here is an illustration of such a pyramid in biotechnology:


What if we were to put the pyramids upside down and treat them as a funnel? The chances of an individual to get from poor, to middle class, to upper class, to billionaire? This is a tricky example, as many people are born into a certain stage mid-way through the funnel, such as people being born in the middle class.

Can we somehow do the same analysis we do with a sales funnel? Can we figure out how to increase the chances of people moving from poor, to middle class? Similarly, from uneducated, to undergraduate, and all the way to professor?

It’s possible that how far we get down the funnel (or up the pyramid) can be modified by figuring out how to better handle people at each level. Maybe looking at the pyramid as a funnel and taking corrective action will result in better outcomes than simply giving up and attributing it all to pedigree.