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3MinSB - Issue #38: Complexity Convection

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3MinSB

November 12 · Issue #38 · View online

Thoughts on life and the everyday.


Hello world and welcome back!
A few issues ago, I noted the prevalence of the platform economy - the strategies modern applications take to allow for network effects and expanding value of transactions and interactions. Amazon solved the inefficiencies of Walmart’s ‘pipe’ selling model by transitioning to a platform unbounded by size or inventory. They created a platform for their sellers, a platform for developing on AWS, and a platform for advertising. They continue to build out enabling infrastructure to support third parties to operate on top.
The topic today is complexity convection, based on a post by Nathan Baschez. The article touches on a few key facets of most product-based ventures. In the early months to years, the product is built as a tailored solution to a specific problem for a small camp of users - users that often share similar traits and needs. The company can shape their MVP and core service around these early adopters, and establish a sustainable product-market fit.
The company sees some initial growth as like-minded users join the service and realize a simple solution to a shared problem. Fast forward a year. The initial customers and clients realize opportunity for growth and additional offerings of other services in the market (even those serving separate needs). They see fancy new integrations in one competitor’s product, an NLP chatbot in another, and a custom search engine in another. The features seem like the right fit for their use case and push for developments. Of course, the company understands these users as the loyalists who deserve prioritization and support. The company realizes the necessity of staying nimble in a changing market, and builds the features requested by customers on top of their existing application. They scramble to stay up to speed with market advances, and while they maintain customer satisfaction, they begin to lose sight and attention of enhancing the initial vision and core service.
A year later, a new wave of customers come by. They yearn something simple. Something the original application excelled at. Yet they quickly become overwhelmed with the options of customizability and additional features. They have a core problem that needs solving, but cannot distinguish the base service from the complexities now so tied into the product. The 'simple’ solution to the common problem suddenly becomes a tower of features surrounding the simple core.
The post gives the example of website builders, and their surge in both popularity and corresponding complexity. Clients demanded features that competitors would offer, and the ability to keep such high profile customers happy was necessary for these growth stage unicorns. The cycle would continue as a convection - the complexity would wrap around the simplicity at the core through new features and growing demands. There are absolute benefits to this cycle, as the product does scale and build lock-in from large user groups. The complexity becomes lucrative, especially with the customers that drive the majority of value.
So platforms.
The service continues to grow until new customers become lost in the mix, and desire clear instruction on navigating and utilizing the service effectively. The company realizes a marketplace-type opportunity, with a demand for instruction on the product and a supply of knowledgeable folks who understand the features and capabilities. A platform naturally emerges, as the complexity of building (on top of) the application grows beyond the scope of internal capabilities. This directly follows the principle from the Amazon article, in which the ecosystem is opened up to allow for third parties to build and transact on top of the core service.
I found the post simple yet insightful. It’s a problem that hadn’t occurred to me before, but a factor that is a bit inescapable for certain startups. Complexity is an interesting concept when applied to most pursuits, and the determining factors are often personal and tailored. Will likely revisit the idea in the future.
If you’d like to read the original post, can find it here.
Round 38!

What I'm Reading
The misuse of our favorite technology buzzwords - big data, machine learning, IOT - continue to plague companies and individuals as they are tossed around as solutions to an abundance of unrelated, unsupported problems. The result is general confusion regarding the terminology and general perception of the topics. Problems that can leverage some predictive models and AI may be deterred due to perceived complexity, while every hot new startup usually boasts about their machine learning platform, often for an unsupported use case.
Slack’s tech team released a short blog on a proper use case of a machine learning application that solved one of their product issues. They break down the problem, the proposed solution space, and the specific attributes that allowed for a ML solution. Highly encourage a read if you are interested in what a machine learning application looks like in actuality. Accessible and quick read.
Blocking Slack Invite Spam With Machine Learning - Slack Engineering
Structure I Envy
This newsletter continues to act as one source of organization in my life - a versioning of my life at a higher level and tracking of interests along the way. Still, I continue to search for a consolidated place to store nuggets of my life beyond the simple lists available in most notes apps. I mentioned my eventual goal to start documenting more in Notion, but haven’t been able to transition from Evernote yet.
I ran across this post this past week and I think it shows just one aspect of the potential behind such a tabular type organization. I do see myself going forward with a similar structure for everything - recipes linked to others, books tagged with authors and personal notes, articles filtered by type and date. I have not used Airtable before, but it has similar capabilities to Notion. Some might consider the documentation extensive - I firmly believe documenting most everything (in life, in code, and everything in between) can only create for betterment. But who knows.
Peter Boyce is a People Person
Because Why Not?
Tesla Tequila. I had a talk with a friend a few weeks back about the growing number of private label brands, so why not go for a 1.5 trillion dollar industry. As George Clooney succinctly noted,
“Acting used to be how I paid the rent, but I sold a tequila company for a billion f — ing dollars. I don’t need money.”
Tesla Motors Tequila
I tend to stay clear of political takes or commentary here, but a hearty congratulations to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. I look forward to hopefully returning to a sense of normalcy in this country and supporting the first female, Indian-American Vice President we’ve seen. Representation matters 🇮🇳
Thank you all for reading! Until next week.
-SB
Also, I also got my seafood in Maryland last week. 10/10
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