Key Takeaways from “Skin in the Game” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

sitg

Taleb’s books have long been in my recommended reads list. The reason for that is that they feel like eye-opening conversations with someone who’s seen it all. His books feel raw, almost unedited streams of consciousness right from his brain. I’ll take it.

His books are notoriously unsummarizable, just because there’s so much information in them. So think of this post as a few chosen servings from an otherwise very rich meal, not as a replacement for the book itself.

In Skin in the Game, Taleb opened my eyes to some of the hidden inbalances present in life, from the everyday to governments and more.

The key point he makes in Skin in the Game is that if you are going to receive rewards from the positive outcome of a certain action or decision you make, you must also bear the cost in case the outcome is negative. This seems obvious enough, except in the real world, there are countless examples of actors not having to bear the negative outcomes of their decisions.

When an actor gets the potential benefits of an action without having to bear the costs of its failure, Taleb calls that an asymmetry. We must avoid asymmetries.

Most of the book is dedicated to exploring examples of how this plays out in the real world. I will give some.

You want to buy an object, and you see it being sold on Amazon for a certain price. For a lower price, you can buy it second-hand on eBay from a reputable seller. And for an even lower price, you found it being sold on Craigslist by someone you don’t know. What would Taleb do?

If you buy the object and it turns out to be great, the seller gets the benefit of having gained money and a positive review as reputation boost, and you get the benefit of having gained the object. You’ll know the seller, so you might buy from them again. It’s a win-win.

But what if the object turns out to be broken, or it’s not what you expected? On Amazon and eBay, you will leave a negative review on the seller’s page, plus you’ll ask for a refund. The seller does not want their reputaton to be tarnished, so they’ll do whatever they can to provide you with a good experience. On those platforms, if the agent causes something negative to you, something negative will happen to them as well. Things are in symmetry.

On Craigslist, there are no reviews. There are no refunds. If the object turns out to be broken, and the seller used a temporary phone number, you have no way to get your money back, and you can’t inflict damage on the seller’s reputation. The seller is in asymmetry: they don’t have to bear the costs if they fail. This is why things are cheaper on Craigslist: you’re paying by being exposed to someone with asymmetry.

If you look hard enough, you can apply this to nearly every interaction you have and action you take. For example, I prefer having my house cleaned by someone whom I pay more but I know, rather than a more affordable stranger. This is because I know that the former cares about their reputation and wants to offer their services repeatedly. A stranger could (potentially) come, steal some stuff, and run away.1

Also, a couple of months ago I added my name and surname right under the title of this blog. This is to add skin in the game. If I write a terrible blog post, with a terrible opinion, or I create something abhorrent, the world will know that it’s Lorenzo Gravina who made it. Therefore, I am signaling that I have no intention of doing that. I now have something to lose (in reputation) if I make blunders. Similarly, after a streak of good blog posts, you’ll start to see my name under a better light, and I stand to gain from that.

This ties into a game theory concept Taleb mentions in his book, that of repeated games. One of the most “obvious” ways in which someone has skin in the game is if they are planning on encountering you again in the future. In other words, they want to play repeated games with you. If you aim for stability and want to avoid risk, you should try to play as many repeated games as you can.

Your local barber wants to have repeated games with you. He wants you to come to his shop as often as possible and for as long as possible. He understands that scamming you, or providing you with a bad experience, will lead you to look for another barber. But when you buy something from a stranger on Craigslist, you’ll never see them again. There won’t be any new games after this one. He is not interested in you purchasing more things from him.

In a nutshell, this is what Skin in the Game is about. Learn to see these “hidden” asymmetries in life and you won’t be able to un-see them.

I do recommend the full book. This was but a single serving.


Featured image credit @black_swan_man.


Toki Pona: The 120-Word Language

toki pona

There’s a language out there which tries to distill life into 120 words. You can learn it in a weekend, and it’s actually good fun.

The practice of inventing languages from scratch (better known as Conlangs, constructed languages) has an entire community around it. It’s big, and the movement boasts hundreds of years of history. You might know at least one famous conlanger. Many languages have been invented so far, but none are quite like Toki Pona.

While most conlangs are just ‘for fun,’ others have a purpose. Esperanto, to name one, was supposed to become a universal language. Toki Pona’s purpose, on the other hand, is to distill the meaning of life in as little words as possible. It’s an exercise in minimalism.

How many words can you take away from a language and still retain its integrity? This is what Toki Pona explores. While it started with 120 words back in 2001, a few have been added since, now settling at around 140.

If you’re wondering whether it’s really possible to have conversations with 140 words, it is. Here’s a podcast in Toki Pona and a Discord server where people only speak in the language. Here’s people tweeting and a Wikipedia. Here’s Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

jan ali li kama lon nasin ni: ona li ken tawa li ken pali. jan ali li kama lon sama. jan ali li jo e ken pi pilin suli. jan ali li ken pali e wile pona ona. jan ali li jo e ken pi sona pona e ken pi pali pona. jan ali li wile pali nasin ni: ona li jan pona pi ante.

Source

But how? Well, small ‘sacrifices’ have to be made. The word for book is lipu. But so is the word for record, paper, document, and card. In short, everything that is a flat sheet is lipu. Web pages are also ‘pages,’ so lipu they are. Sometimes, words are both noun and verb. lukin means eye, but also to see, to examine, to read, to watch, etc.

When one word can take upon so many meanings, context becomes important. Take for example lupa, meaning both door and window. If I told you to close the lupa behind you as you leave, you’d understand which one I am talking about.

Since the language is so minimal, you can do things you wouldn’t be able to do in a regular one. For example, someone has made a system of hyeroglyphs where one symbol equals one word.1 You can then put these hieroglyphs together to form entire texts, like this one:

Toki Pona hieroglyphs from https://www.jonathangabel.com/2012/balloon-boy-interview/

Sure, you wouldn’t use Toki Pona for your next legally binding contract. But its simplicity and minimalism make it for a great language to pick up in quite literally a weekend. Estimates vary, but the official website mentions that there are now thousands of fluent speakers.

If you want to join them, or if you are like me and want to dip your toes to see what it feels like to express yourself in a language so small, here’s a couple of resources:

The official handbook is the most recommended resource out there. Written by the inventor of the language herself, Sonja Lang, it’s the de facto authoritative grammar and vocabolary reference.

The dictionary section of the handbook is becoming quite dated, however, so Lang just recently released a new and updated two-way dictionary with all the newest words and amendments to the language. A one-way Toki Pona to English dictionary is also available at this page for free.

The grammar reference I used back in the day is this ‘unofficial’ one by jan Pije. Quite enjoyable to read, sadly taken offline but still alive thanks to the Internet Archive.

If all that wasn’t enough, tokipona.net is the one-stop-shop for Toki Pona resources out there.

musi pona!


The Quiet Tech Toolkit

quiet tech

One concept which changed my relationship to the internet is the idea that, fundamentally, it is a pull medium. When you visit a website or an app, you are “pulling” stuff to you.

This means that with some care, we can be guilt-free about being selective on what we pull, and enjoy the benefits of the Internet (knowledge, curation, etc.) without the downsides (malicious ads, algorithmic feeds and general screaming.)

In this post I’ll give you a couple of tricks and links to tools which, hopefully, will make your stay on the Internet just that little bit healthier and quieter.

Make your New Tab page empty

Likely, right now your New Tab page shows you the websites you use the most. And likely, the websites you use the most are where most of the screaming happens (e.g. social media.) Now, I’m not saying we shouldn’t use social media, but I am advocating for being more mindful and intentional about using it.

If I intend to open Twitter, then I will. But I don’t need to be reminded about its existence every time I see a new tab. Throughout the day we open new tabs maybe dozens of times, and each one of them is a reminder to “just check out Twitter/Facebook.” Let’s remove that.

If you use Chrome, this extension will do the trick. It’ll show a completely blank page as your new page. If you use Firefox, type about:preferences#home into your address bar and uncheck everything there.

The empty New Tab page is just something I take for granted now, and a simple trick which makes you more intentional about how you use the web.

Hide algorithmic feeds

How many times have you found yourself scrolling mindlessly through a feed, only to then “snap back” to reality to immediately close it? This is intentional, and brilliant minds are working tirelessly to improve the algorithms used to show you things you may like, sprinkled with ads.

The biggest culprit for me is YouTube, but I’m sure you have yours. Speaking from experience, blocking the website outright doesn’t work. It’s also a net negative, since many of those websites with “feeds” (e.g. Reddit/Twitter/YouTube) actually have content that’s worthwhile. The solution is to simply hide the main “feed” while keeping the rest of the site open.

Hiding feeds is possible with some crafty use of ad blockers (more on them later,) but the extension “Hide Feed” does that well and with only one click. The free version allows you to block the feed of one website, and that for me was enough since YouTube is my beast.

Block ads

Advertising is a perfectly legitimate way to let people know about your product. The product would then improve those people’s lives, resulting in a net positive.

Sadly, this is not how advertising works today on the Internet. On the privacy side, ads are used to actively track your activity across websites, apps, and devices. But even purely on a practical level, ads are resource hogs. They use up significant resources on your device, be it processor of battery power. And with ad blockers, we can get rid of all of them.

On the desktop

uBlockOrigin is the standard ad-blocking extension for your browser. Just install it and forget it. For Safari, look into AdGuard.

On mobile

If you’re on iOS, block ads on Safari with the AdGuard app. Then block them in apps using the AdGuard DNS profile. If you’re on Android, install uBlockOrigin from Firefox’s Extensions menu to block ads on the browser, and use the same AdGuard DNS trick as before for apps.

Empty your home screen

This is what my home screen has looked like since about 2016:

screen

This is again about bringing back intentionality to your tech use. If you want to use an app you can (swipe down and start typing its name,) but this way you are not reminded of [App]’s existence every time you unlock your phone. It’s a bit painful at first, but going app-less on the home screen is a one-way road: you won’t want to go back.

Disable all non-message, non-phone call notifications

This is also going to hurt at first, but it’ll save you hundreds of hours you were going to spend “just checking the time.” The rule is one and simple: if it doesn’t require an immediate action from me, it doesn’t make it into my notifications. This can also from inside an app itself. For instance, Instagram messages make it, but likes don’t. Telegram personal messages make it, channels don’t. And so on.


If you have a tip you use to make tech quieter, please do share it with me at lorenzo [at] this website’s domain and I will add it in. I’m one hundred percent sure there is something out there I haven’t even considered.

Habits Need to Fit into Muscle Memory

layer 0

We know what we should do. We sit down to think about it and no, we should not open the fridge door 20 times a day. Then the time comes, and we find ourselves doing it anyway. Why? My guess is that it has something to do with memory.

Memory is layered. On the top layer, we have a large amount of cheap, long-term storage. The bulk of what we call our “knowledge” is here. It takes effort to retrieve this information, it’s not instantaneous. But that’s the tradeoff for the sheer quantity of stuff you can store.

Down a couple of layers, we have our short-term memory. I am using it to type this very sentence, so that I don’t forget how I started it. You’re using it too to parse these paragraphs. This memory pool is small, but access to is is fast.

At the bare bones, we have what some call “muscle memory,” or “instincts.” I’ll call it Layer 0. This is where your operating system resides. Retrieving from this layer takes no effort at all, in fact, you don’t need to “retrieve” anything from it, the information is just “there.”

Layer 0 is what people refer to as “you”. Your actions, reactions, behaviours. When you say you “turn off your brain,” this is the layer you are using. Here, it’s not even fair to call it “memory”, it’s more like the “code” that runs you.

Whenever you see something, you have an instinctive reaction. That’s Layer 0. Your upper layers then kick into gear and form an idea about it, then store it. But you always start from 0. We love layer 0, because it doesn’t take any effort to use it.

The reason why what we do is different from what we think we should do is because these two pieces of information reside in different layers of memory.

What we “should” do is in layer 3 or 4, while what we actually do is always down to layer 0. Retrieving info from the top layers is expensive, so if there is a suitable alternative closer to the core, we do it.

When we are solving a complex problem, there is no layer 0 alternative. We are forced to wire stuff down from the top. But when we need to choose what to do after getting up from the chair, the choice is easy: your “reaction” to walk up to the fridge in layer 0 versus your “knowledge” of restraining yourself on layer 3.

And it’s not just that retrieving “knowledge” is expensive, it’s that Layer 0 is extremely small. If our upper layers are the surface of the Earth, our Layer 0 is the size of a stamp. This is why we rely heavily on abstractions to make sense of the world around us. We just can’t process and store it all at once. This is also why many habit gurus on the Internet recommend you start small.

You’re successful at creating a habit when you can bring it down to layer 0. Real estate in this layer is at a premium, but once something is there, it’s there for good. Because a habit is just that: something that feels natural to you. Something effortless.

Everything I have ever said so far about habits, such as making them small, treating them like meetings, shaping your environment, and others can all boil to this same one thing: making habits a part of ourselves. A part of Layer 0.

How to Stick with Resolutions (according to the Internet)

resolutions 1

There’s something irresistible about arbitrary deadlines. We know we could start writing our book today, but our brain loves the idea of starting in the new year. So, we do resolutions.

Me? I am notoriously bad at sticking to things, even small ones. I get passionate about something, I do it until I get tired (1-2 months,) then I quit it completely. Then I find something new again, rinse and repeat. So I know I wouldn’t stick to something for a whole year.

I’ve been living with this “condition” for a long time. So I wanted to see what would happen if I asked the Internet for tips on sticking to things like resolutions, projects, hobbies, etc. The response was great. Tens of people replied to my post on Hacker News with insights I had never even thought about. In this post, I’ll summarize them for you, so that you can be armed to stick to your resolutions and projects throughout the new year and more.

Trust your old self

Three months in, you’ll want to drop your thing. You’re sick and tired of writing, or going to the gym, or learning game development. It’s at this point where you need to stop what you are doing and start trusting your old self.

Your old self got into the resolution for a reason. Your old self did some research and thought it’d be worth to stick to X for a while. Why don’t you trust yourself? Give your old self the benefit of the doubt.

Be aware of the horizon

When you start something new, you can only see up until the horizon. You see the road to get there, and you know you can get to the horizon relatively easily. It’s what’s beyond the horizon that you must be prepared for.

Before the horizon is the land of high dopamine, high motivation, and endless curiosity. After the horizon is the land of the unknowns, the obstacles, and low motivation. Before, you didn’t need discipline: you were motivated to do things on your own. After, you need to just commit to doing it regularly, no matter your level of satisfaction with it.

You want to stop doing X not because you fell out of love with it, but because you crossed the horizon. When starting, be fully aware that what you see before you is but 1% of the whole thing, and the rest is beyond your current knowledge and motivation level. You will be unmotivated, and there will be obstacles.

Involve people

How on Earth was I able to stick to trms for half a year now, when normally I context-switch every 30 minutes? It’s because I know you are reading, and about a hundred people are half-expecting a new post and email every Friday.

A surefire way to stick with something is to make it embarrassing to fail.

Accumulate Wins

One of the reasons why we quit is that we stop winning. Our “goals” look like they are moving further away, and we haven’t hit a significant milestone in ages. Not winning is demoralizing. So start winning again.

If you’re creating a game, set yourself the goal of working on that bug for at least 3 hours this weekend. If you’re writing a book, tell yourself you’ll write 1000 words by Sunday. All doable stuff. Then crunch it and win. Once you got this first win, you’ll want to get another one. And another one, and before you know it, it’s an avalanche.

Know what you want to get out of your projects

Why are you starting the new project? What do you want to get out of it? If you are in it just to explore, it’s ok to drop it quickly. If, instead, you are looking for something bigger, prepare yourself to weather through some storms. Don’t feel guilty for dropping something quickly if that was the intention from the start.

Know what you want, period

Are you doing these things because you’re genuinely interested, or because you think that you should be interested in them?

I’m still fuming at this commenter, because they hit an open nerve on their first try. Are you actually interested in these projects, or are you projecting a version of yourself that should be interested in them?

It’s worth spending a good chunk of time looking at yourself and thinking about what you actually like to do. It’s not as obvious as it seems. Figuring it out will save you a good amount of time later on. If you have trouble sticking to things, it might be because you don’t actually like them, and you didn’t even realize it.

Bonus: Reading Recommendations from Commenters

The Dip will outline this idea of keeping at it as things don’t really pick up right away.

Atomic Habits gives some great ideas on structuring things to make them habits. Setting your environment up to make it easier to get started etc.

Reading Finish by Acuff RN (was recommended in an earlier post). Absolutely recommended.

Earlier this year, a newer version of Driven to Distraction was published, ADHD 2.0, written by the very same authors and featuring a lot promising new strategies backed by recent research. Definitely a recommended read.

I think you might benefit from reading this series of short articles: https://mindingourway.com/guilt/ (note that you have to read them in order).

I still feel pretty bad about this and have a lot of guilt by not pursuing my projects, however I recently finished reading “Refuse To Choose” by Barbara Sher and it was a game changer, I still feel bad about it but I see now a different perspective and it has given me hope and made me realize that perhaps I’m not as broken as I thought I was.

Read all the comments here.

The trms 2021 Year in Review

2021 year in review

‘Tis that time of the year where one reflects upon the last twelve months. I thought I’d take the opportunity to reflect openly on how trms has done in 2021, and what the plan is for next year.

Starting on the fourth of July 2021, I have been posting a new article or piece of content every Friday, for a total of 24 posts. When I originally started I set myself a goal of writing for 52 weeks straight, so it looks like I’m just about halfway through. I don’t know what I’ll do once I hit the 52 mark: we’ll see when we get there.

Most of my posts have been about self-development and psychology. To summarize my posts on the topic, I talked about why you should keep your habits small so you can stick to them for longer. How the way to have more energy is to spend more energy. How the way to get good is to focus on quantity. How you’re only productive when you stop focusing on productivity. How to detect what’s going to last and what won’t. How luck is actually a choice. Why you can’t get things done. Why advice won’t save you. Why you need a journal. Why willpower is overrated. How you can stick to habits better if you treat them like meetings. Why you should stop preparing and just start. Why you should stop obsessing over tools. And why you should stop grinding and start having fun.

I also wrote about startups, namely, a small guide to marketing for technical founders, and how creating content feels a lot like founding a startup.

Some posts were focused on a certain topic, for example I wrote a small guide to typography for non-designers, I summarized Derek Sivers’ book “Hell Yeah or No”, I documented my start on web development, and talked about why I think I am stuck in generalist hell.

All in all, I had fun writing those articles. Some were crafted over days of work, others were cobbled together in two hours. Often, the longer the article the shorter it took me to write. I thought about quitting many times, but I couldn’t bring myself to break the streak. Some were written and rewritten, others were quite literally poured onto paper and published that way. And view numbers did not in any way correlate with how much effort I put into a post.

Speaking of popularity, this year the most read post was The Value of Doing a Little. Likely not because it’s the most well-written (I wrote it in 3 hours and didn’t edit it whatsoever) but because it was one of the very few I published on other websites. I do want my message to reach more people, but I feel bad tooting my own horn on places like Reddit and Hacker News. In fact I feel bad self-promoting full stop. If you’re reading this, I don’t know how you made it to this website. I am impressed.

At about the same time I started posting this year, I also started the newsletter, which is also very fun to put together. The best part actually comes after sending it, when I get replies from you the readers. The conversations we have are always fun, informative, and insightful, so thank you. Overall there have been about 24 issues of the newsletter, each with four links plus my own story, for a total of about a hundred links to external resources, be them essays or utilities.

So what’s the plan for 2022?

Like I said earlier I’d like to reach, at least, 52 straight weeks of writing, so trms will definitely continue at least until July. The newsletter will also continue as it is. Once that threshold is reached, I will consider whether I should continue on a weekly basis, a biweekly basis, or something else.

If there is something I would like to improve about trms is… well, everything. I would like to make the website easier to navigate and more pleasing to the eye. I’m considering talking to a designer. I’d also like for the outreach to expand. The time investment on the blog is considerable, so quite normally I would like for my writing to reach more and more people. But at the same time I despise self-promotion, so that’s a bit of a quandary. If anyone has tips, you know how to contact me. In any case I do know that it’s a niche blog so I’m not looking to reach any critical mass.

When it comes to the topic of the posts to come, that’s completely TBD. In 2021 I mostly talked about psychology because I felt like that was what I could talk about, also it was a sort of ‘safety net.’ Next year I’d like to explore more and expand what I talk about. But I won’t know until I get there.

In general, if you are a reader of this blog and you have any feedback, about anything at all, please do reach out to me. I would love to know how I can make it better and more useful for everyone.

Anyway, I wish you a great Christmas weekend and happy holidays. As always, see you next week.

Marketing for Technical Founders

marketing 2 1

Welcome to the other side. This will be a brief overview, I’ll just show the basic principles in a way that makes sense. There’s whole books for details.

So what’s with this whole marketing thing?

Marketing is Not a Swear Word

First, something foundational. Change the way you see marketing.

No advice in the world will matter if you don’t believe marketing is something you need. So step number one is to treat marketing and product as equals.

You’re here, so you actually know you need marketing. But you’re still biased. Sometimes, you see an ad with a claim and say, well, “but that’s just marketing.”

Usually the biggest mental barrier against marketing is the belief that it’s deception. The belief that marketing is the act of “convincing” people to pretty please try the product.  No, bad marketing is deception. Good marketing is helpful.

You have a vision for your product. When building it, you think about the people who should use it. Likely, you honestly believe that if they used it, their life would be better. Marketing is what gets your product to those people and shows them how their life would be better if they used it. It’s as simple as that.

All startups that failed had a product. What they lacked were customers. Don’t learn why you need marketing the hard way.

Let’s get started.

Nail the Basics

What problem are you solving? Who is your product for? Why should people use your product?

It’s baffling, but many startups still don’t have this figured out. If you do, you’re miles ahead. Most would rather add one more feature to the product than sit down and talk about this. That’s like pushing on the accelerator pedal without having a steering wheel.

If you have the answers, great. If you already know people who have this problem and need it solved, even better. But if not, sit down and write the answers. They will be the foundation for things moving forward.

Some are scared by how final this sounds. It’s not. You can make changes and adjust, but do have a direction.

Have Personality

People change. Your company will change. But at any given time, a person has a (semi-)cohesive personality. Your company should have one too. Some call it branding, but it’s the same thing.

The answers to the questions in the previous section are a big part of it. But your company’s personality is more than that.

Have a consistent presentation across all of your media. Every single thing that is shown to the outside world should be part of a cohesive unit. Every line of text, every drawing, every illustration and every UI element needs to look as if it’s been done by one person only.

When people see a person, they associate them with certain traits, for example happiness, health, or boredom. When people see your logo, they should associate it with traits Y and Z. Define those traits.

When people interface with your company, they need to feel as if they’re having a conversation with someone who makes sense and is consistent in the way they talk. If you need to hire a designer or a copywriter, do that. If you don’t have the funds, read up and gain these skills.

It’s worth spending a good amount of time going over every public-facing aspect of your company and ensuring things fit together. This ‘person’ likes certain colors, has a certain way of talking, and a certain way of doing things. This person has rules for themselves, in how they behave, what they do, and what they don’t.

When your company does or says something, would someone say “Ah, that’s just what Acme would do/say”? If not, your company still doesn’t have a personality.

Understand Your Target

Marketing is showing your product to the people who need it. To do that, you need to have a clear idea of who needs it. They won’t come where you are: you need to go where they are.

In other words, if you’re selling an enterprise software solution, don’t do TikTok ads. Well of course you wouldn’t do that, that sounds obvious. But you might already be targeting the wrong audience in a subtler way.

So how do I target them properly? This needs roleplaying. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes and see where they hang out, what their problems are, and how they like to be approached.

You won’t nail your target audience in the first try. Maybe you’ll find a whole new ‘category’ of people you didn’t even know about. In your product, you do A/B testing to see what works and what doesn’t. Marketing is no different.

Be Consistent

When things go well and you have customers, people never hear from you on social media. When things are worse, you frantically post stuff to get some traction. Is this you?

Be consistent. Let people see your company’s logo on a regular basis. Be gone for a month or two and you’ll have to start nearly from scratch.

Pick a schedule and stick by it as if your life depended on it. In a way, it kind of does.

Ads Work

If they didn’t, the entire ad industry wouldn’t exist. It sounds obvious but many of us have a bias against using ads.

The main difference between paid and unpaid marketing is that people don’t want to see paid marketing. As such, the nature of the content will be different. Don’t upload your 1-hour conference as a YouTube ad (I’ve seen that).

When making ads, think about the fact that the people who see it don’t know you, don’t know what you do, and don’t want to see them. Your technical mind will want to explain every nook and cranny of your product in a 10-minute video. Except, a 30-second ad is already too long. So grab people with shorter, more digestible content.

In ads, you can imply a lot. Just show a single feature, people will understand that there’s a whole product behind it.

Don’t just repurpose your unpaid marketing for your ads.

Be Part of the Community

While it’s important to get the word out about your company, it’s also key to get the word out about yourself, especially as a founder.

When you brand yourself, this has the positive side effects that you are both helping yourself and the company at the same time. Plus, your personal branding will last for as long as you do.

It’s likely your potential customers hang out in communities online. Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. Be a part of those communities. Follow, reply, and DM others. Help people out. If you’re a cybersecurity company, join cybersecurity events. Heck, organize cybersecurity events.

Word of mouth is strong, but it only works when people have someone to share your product with. Telling your circle of friends about your project is great, but it’s unlikely they’ll tell others. But hang around in a community of your users enough, and the network effects will do the rest.

Help Customers Help You

If you have customers, love them. Really, do. They chose you out of all alternatives for their task. They are your champions, your number 1 evangelists. They gave you money, invested in you, so they are interested to see you grow. They are helping you already, but make it easier for them to help you even more. How?

Make it so that they get something every time they recommend you to others. Or, make it so that every time they share something made with your product, your branding is included.

You set these up once, then it’s “free” marketing forever.

But what do I do

At this point, you might be frustrated I haven’t told you exactly things do do step by step. There’s a couple of reasons for that.

  1. That would be a prescription, and prescriptions won’t save you.
  2. Marketing is not an exact science, it’s more of an acquired skill. This is why software tools (Jira, scrum, stand-ups, etc.) are ill-suited to it.
  3. Marketing is more “case-by-case” than building.

But let me try my best to give you actionable tips based on what we’ve talked about so far.

Answer these questions: What problem am I solving? Who is my product for? Why should people use my product?

Maintain your website. The website is likely the first thing people will see about you. Appearances matter. Put yourself in the shoes of your target audience once again and look at it from that perspective.

Does it grab the eye? Does it tell them what they need to be told? Would your target audience like it? Is it clear what your message is and what you’re selling? Is it fresh and up-to-date with the latest from your product? Does it make it easy for people to contact you? 

Engage in consistent unpaid marketing. Commit to a regular social media and blog posting schedule. Religiously. If it’s one blog post a week, it’s one blog post a week. Don’t do it for a month then quit because you don’t see the results. These things take time. Try it for three to six months and then re-evaluate. Did I mention to stick with it religiously?

Experiment with paid marketing. As a technical person, this will feel like play to you once you get the grasp of it. Put out ads on Google, LinkedIn, or wherever your people hang out.

All of these platforms will give you a wealth of statistical information about ad performance. Tweak things slowly to get that click rate up. It’s actually a pretty fun numbers game. If your people are likely to watch a particular YouTube channel, sponsor them. In short, put your thing in front of the people who want/need it.

Engage with the community. Dedicate an hour a day minimum to engaging with the community in some form or another. This is not optional.

Help your customers spread the word about you.

Please do let me know how things go for you. I’m interested.


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