Was Your Decision to Read This Conscious?

Posted on January 17, 2011. Filed under: Hyperpublic, startups | Tags: , |

A few weeks ago, I went through the psychotic effort of mapping my attention across all facets of life.  This was not an analysis of how I spend my time, but rather an attempt at examining what facets of life capture the most mindshare.  Not surprisingly professional subject matter dominates my attention at this juncture in my life, you can see the graph below for the ugly details.

Within each bucket outlined below, I went one level deeper.  For example within Love, I estimated the attention I spent on searching vs. acting vs. indulging vs. analyzing, or within Professional I mapped the thought devoted to recruiting vs. administrative vs. distribution vs. product vision, etc.  I’ll spare you the graphs for all 9 verticals and summarize by telling you that my life is pretty imbalanced right now, with more mindshare dedicated to Twitter than communication with my family (who I love and talk to all the time) and more attention devoted to administrative tasks for Hyperpublic than to discovery of love.  Buy me a beer and I’ll share all the data if your interested.  At each point within these 9 buckets where I felt I was spending a greater amount of attention than was consistent with my philosophical ideals (or concept of what I should be focused on), I circled the line-item and drew an arrow with an action I could take to directly increase or decrease this subject’s allocation in my mind.  This experiment was an effort of life optimization.

Again not surprisingly, what became clear immediately, was that I wanted to add more attention to almost every bucket and almost every line item within each bucket.  I found myself trading 1/10 of a percent of attention here for 1/10 of a percent there, without a whole lot of margin to work with (e.g. many facets of my life are close to optimized in terms of attention).  The one glaring area where I found a large pocket of attention to steal and sprinkle on all the needy buckets and line items was actually in what I’ve defined as Unfocussed Attention.  Unfocussed Attention is the state in which you are not actively deciding where to focus, but rather passively taking in stimulus and allowing it to route your attention in whatever direction it chooses.  I’ve graphed the breakout of my unfocussed attention below.

You can see that nearly 70% of the time where my focus sputters, and I turn to some source of stimulus to “route” my attention passively, the channel for that stimulus is a mobile or web application.  Products like Twitter, Facebook, Gmail, Instagram, and Foursquare all serve as routers, pushing my attention without my having to make an active decision.  Television is the most prevalent example of this passive consumption/attention allocation, but more and more frequently mobile products are filling the blank spaces in our focus and our day with content that drives us in unconscious directions.

When I think about the mobile products that achieve everyday usage and “Homescreen real estate,” they almost categorically possess the attribute of attention routing.  They provide a stream of constantly refreshing data/content that can serve up to the consumer a new object/concept/thought to focus on in moments without one.  Andrew Kortina at Venmo once used the phrase “hacking my brain” to refer to the changeable nature of our thought patterns, and to borrow his phrase, I have hacked my brain with simple rules to redistribute my unfocussed attention toward the facets of my life more deserving of that thought.  Everytime I have the seemingly physiological impulse to reach into my pocket and pull out my phone to check one of these attention routing services, I have trained myself to holster the iPhone, and then spend that moment focused on one of the many line items with a red circle that indicates “in need of more.”  I am not swearing off these services (I still use them regularly), but rather only engaging in them when I have consciously decided to engage.

As an entrepreneur building a consumer facing mobile application, I am zeroed in on features that have the capacity to turn Hyperpublic into an attention routing application, but as a human being I feel slightly guilty about amplifying the unfocussed attention in the world.  We should be so lucky to face this conundrum:)

P.S. We’ve been meeting with a handful of folks about leading our mobile development efforts, so now would be the time to say hello if that’s your fancy.  Email: Jordan.cooper@gmail.com with “Mobile” in the subject line.

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If you’re building for $1B, is “Focus” a Farce?

Posted on September 14, 2010. Filed under: JumpPost, startups, venture capital | Tags: , , |

The word “focus” has been coming up a ton in my meetings lately. Like many product minded entrepreneurs, I have a ton of ideas about what Jumppost can become, and what we need to build to get there. As I begin to communicate those ideas to experienced folks around the table, I am getting repeated words of advice to “focus.” Today I met with one of our portfolio companies who’s product DNA was the main reason for our investment in them, and again I watched a conversation emerge around the balance between possibilities and focus on a single direction. I can think of at least 5 other examples where product minded founders are drawn toward rapid testing and iteration around a general direction as opposed to deep build around a more focused mission.

Conventional wisdom and the “smart money” seems to say that singular focus is the path to success in the startup game. When I started my first company, I eschewed conventional wisdom in the name of intuition, which was a strategy that worked occasionally, but more oft failed. I am now smart enough to know that I am not smarter than the composite operational advice of seasoned and accomplished entrepreneurs. As such, I have the word “FOCUS” written in digital permanent marker at the top of my to Google to do list.

That said, I find myself wondering if changes in the product development lifecycle are not giving birth to a new type of non-bootstrapped operation/execution that is more forgiving of experimentation at the expense of focus (think extension of the lean startup methodology). If it only takes two weeks to push a product that used to take 2 months to develop, does that not change the risk/reward around more loosely focused experimentation (especially in consumer applications where you are so heavily rewarded for tapping an unlikely/semi-predictable viral vein)?

I think it largely depends on what type of outcome you are shooting for. Is there an operator out there who is focused on highly experimental signal detection over linear progress that will discover the next viral consumer app? David Karp at Tumblr was building 4 other things when he decided to “focus” on just one. Facebook launched 3-4 distinct applications in the course of 4 months before running with the now behemoth. Twitter was a side project, etc. etc. etc.

If you are really shooting for the high risk, huge numbers, consumer app, how much resource/data is required to know if what your building is it or not? And if the answer to that is discoverable in short amounts of time through a team with low burn and efficient development cycles, is a deliberate “unfocussed approach” a more likely road to outsized numbers and a mega-viral product? (I don’t know the answer to this, but some of the smartest young founders I meet are intuitively drawn toward an approach that is inconsistent with the experience of previous generations of entrepreneurs. So either young founders always make this mistake and you can’t actively execute with an eye toward step function signals and virality, or a new style of early stage execution is emerging within consumer focused startups).

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    I’m a NYC based investor and entrepreneur. I've started a few companies and a venture capital firm. You can email me at Jordan.Cooper@gmail.com (p.s. i don’t use spell check…deal with it)


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