Why Try SpaceLines

This is an ad or sales pitch script for SpaceLines, an economy space travel company. The target is a potential customer who is interested in space travel. SpaceLines is the name of the (as of today, fictional) company. Meant to be taken in a lighter spirit.

Since I was a young boy, I have wondered how it would be to travel through outer space. I always wondered how it would feel if I could travel to Mars and live there for a while. Have you ever wanted to try growing your garden on a different planet? If you have had questions along these lines, SpaceLines may be what you have been looking for!

SpaceLines is a great company with a great product. With SpaceLines, your family can have the experience of a lifetime and have a great story to tell everyone for the rest of your lives.

Throughout history, mankind has been fascinated with space and wondered what lies in the heavens above. Since the 1960s, some of us have been able to go to space. Until today, you had to be a highly trained athlete to qualify to travel to outer space as an astronaut.

With SpaceLines, while you still need to be healthy and free from any major disease, you do not have to be a high performing athlete to travel to Mars. We highly encourage you to consult your doctor, follow a diet and fitness plan and get healthy if you want to be able to travel to Mars.

You may be one of those people who could be worried how you would manage to be away for three to five years from your regular full time job and social life. We at SpaceLines have thought of you. We have teamed up with several partner companies. With the help of these partners, you can opt in to continue to work full time or part time so that your skills don’t go to waste.

We also provide education modules for children from K through 12. So, your kids will not have to miss out on any of their education.

Of course, we all know that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. So, SpaceLines provides you with top-quality entertainment for the entire journey. We have fantastic movie theaters screening all your favorite movies and TV shows. We also have libraries, gyms and basketball courts.

Once you land on Mars, you have the option to live in one of our high-quality resorts. We provide attractive package deals for our line of Martian SpaceLines resorts.

We are always striving to reduce flight time and, today, it takes us 300 days to travel to Mars.  Once you land on Mars, you can choose to stay there for however long you wish. We provide return journeys to earth every 26 months. Every 26 months, Earth and Mars get close to each other and this is the best time to launch our rockets.

So, what are you waiting for? It is time to give SpaceLines a try. Call our 24-hour hotline at 1800-SPACE or visit us at spacelines.com.

PS

For me, this was a way to practice public speaking, which I have been interested in for a while.  It revealed some key issues to keep in mind, such as importance of lighting, being familiar with the script etc. The hardest parts of this were probably speaking without appearing to read a script and getting the technical details of getting the recording right. Something like this could maybe go on youtube.

As I mentioned above, I have been fascinated with space and space travel since a young age. Having watched Elon Musk’s recent presentations about his plans for Mars travel fired me up to pursue this interest more. My big dream is one day to make this fictional company a reality and be able to help people to head to Mars.

How a side project changed the way we communicate

A brief study of Slack from it’s beginnings.

Slack began as an internal tool used by a small video game company in Vancouver, BC. Out of this now defunct company, called Tiny Speck, came the first release of Slack to the outside world in 2013. The name stands for “Searchable Log of All Conversation and Knowledge”.

Like many startups, Tiny Speck relied on Internet Relay Chat (IRC), a popular protocol for chatting and messaging on the internet. While no longer based on an IRC-backend, Slack began with IRC and innovated greatly on it. As they developed it internally for four years, they realized that their email usage was reduced significantly. Also, this tool helped generally with productivity.

Slack provides a great interface for teams by providing unique web addresses to each team. This has turned it into a community platform. It now competes with services such as bulletin boards, Facebook and LinkedIn, which had been previously used as the common communication medium.

They were able to attract a significant user base as many people began to realize its value. It grew significantly since their launch in 2013. After attracting 8,000 users in the first 24 hours of their launch, they quickly grew to sign up 10,000 new daily active users each week by 2015. By now, they had moved their headquarters to Silicon Valley, California, presumably because of the easy access to venture capital. They reached a $1 billion valuation within 1.5 years of launch and, in the process, became the fastest company to do so.

It was recently announced that 77% of the Fortune 500 companies use Slack. As we see it, they accomplished this change in a few ways. As a background, Slack can track their user base by domain, number of channels and usage stats. They also can track the mobile usage and possibly, locations of their users. Based on this data along with a business strategy plan, Slack pivoted and turned its strategy to reach a broader market.

They adopted the freemium model of offering their basic service for free. Usage of Slack expanded as users began to realize its true value. The number of paying users thus expanded in a bottom-up fashion even as the overall number of users grew at a rapid rate.

During this initial 1-2 years of rapid growth, Slack was used mostly by technology startups composed of mainly younger generation techies. These initial users were not too accustomed to using email anyway. So, adopting a “cool” new application like Slack did not take much convincing.

As people signed up for their free version, their salesforce reaches out to the primary user. After understanding the user requirements, they can share analytics data emphasizing user success. Thus they inform the users of the value of potentially signing up for the paid version.

They have also begun to offer guest accounts to freelancers and vendors of customers. These guest account users become disseminators to other clients, thus expanding Slack’s user base.

Finally, they built their mobile app to capitalize on the ever-growing usage of smartphones. By making it easier for folks out on the field to ask questions and get updates on progress, Slack also turned out to be a good alternative for text messaging.

References

Decide to change destiny

This is a study of a decision. Analyzing it. Breaking it down. Making the right decision.

“Crying is all right in its way while it lasts. But you have to stop sooner or later, and then you still have to decide what to do.”

― C.S. Lewis

The Decision

Whether to make the switch to a new database for our software product. Can be reframed as: How best to future-proof the product?

Goals

  • Support our customers in all possible ways
  • Contribute to customer success by addressing their pain points
  • Adapt to new technology
  • Future-proof the product

Sunk Cost Analysis

  • The team has put in a lot of work into the product using the current database.
  • Many developers have learned these skills and helped grow the product.
  • However, many breakthroughs in software have happened by discarding old code. So, it may not be advisable to continue the inertia.

Decision Tree

Decision Tree

Choices, Dependencies & Outcome Risks

  • Keep the current database (Revenue: $30 mil. Potential loss in 5 years: $20 mil)
    • There are no major complaints from customers
    • The product continues to function well
    • Also, the current team of developers are highly skilled and knowledgeable. They make sure the current system continues to work very well
    • Risk is that the product may no longer be up to date with the latest trends
    • Another risk is at some point in the future, customers may start switching to competitors’ products who have the new technology
  • Buy a third-party database (Cost: $4 mil. Potential revenue in 1 year: >$30 mil)
    • A one-time investment of $2 million is committed to buy third party database
    • Best database for our purpose is selected from a range of competing systems
    • Commit a small Tiger team to work with the third-party developers and integrate the database
    • Commit to retrain our developers with the new skills required to work with the third-party system
    • Commit to sign a service agreement with the third party company for their support
    • Risk is that the third party database may not be fully adaptable to our product architecture, necessitating some architecture changes
    • Another risk is in case the third party company goes out of business, we will no longer have their support for the new database
  • Build database in-house and slowly replace the old database (Cost: $1 mil. Potential revenue in 2 years: >$30 mil)
    • Commit a small Tiger team for about one year to come up with the infrastructure needed to make the switch
    • Commit a set of developers (called the A team) chosen to train with the new skills required to work with the new infrastructure
    • Plan for the product to have both databases in place
    • Plan for existing features to continue to run on the old database
    • Choose a cut-off point, after which, new additions will only be made in the new infrastructure
    • Slowly over one more year, the A team will replace the existing set of features to work with the new infrastructure
    • Inevitably, there will be some backward incompatibilities introduced. These should be well documented and communicated to the customers
    • Customers should not realize any difference in performance or stability
  • Build database in-house and make the switch in a couple of years time (Cost: $1 mil. Potential revenue in 2 years: >$30 mil)
    • Resources have to be committed to retrain developers in new skills at some point in future
    • Commit a small Tiger team for about one year to come up with the infrastructure needed to make the switch
    • Commit to train rest of the team with new skills
    • In one more year’s time, the full product should be converted over
    • Inevitably, there will be some backward incompatibilities introduced. These should be well documented and communicated to the customers
    • Risk is that the newer code may not be stable because of the drastic switch
    • Another risk is customers may end up not liking it right away because of the drastic change

In the end, the choice to build the database in-house and slowly replace the old database seems the best in terms of:

  • costs
  • long term revenue
  • risk management
  • future-proofing the product

Post-script

The change agents in this case are the stakeholders who try to predict the future in some way in order to keep the product marketable.

Among the risks I wanted to take into account, included the risk of product architecture change necessitated by introducing third-party components into the system. I think this is a real issue which many engineering teams face, but may not anticipate beforehand. So, I tried giving a value to this risk scenario.

Thinking about what could be cut out while working on this task reminded me that I had taken the availability of resources for granted. On many occasions, one needs to work with constrained resources in terms of money, time and labor. So, I will definitely keep this in mind going forward.

I also need to consider the positioning of this proposal for not only this product, but also the product line and the organization. Of course, there are may other aspects of this product itself, only one of which was considered in this proposal, which contribute to its overall success. I suppose I am biased because my responsibility has been the database portion of the product. It may help to add a section on a broader perspective of the product including its many other aspects.

I think, taking into account the limited resources available, spending extra money on the third party option may not be feasible at this point.

In my flying machine…

This is a study of a project for economy space travel to Mars. First, we study its constraints, build it’s initial mass of early adopters, slowly expand the user base and finally overcome any constraints in scaling.

Some of the constraints include:

  • Technical
    • Overcoming earth’s gravitational field
    • Building a great spaceship which is safe and reusable
  • Marketing
    • Attracting people to give up 5-10 years of their life on a trip
  • Logistics
    • Keeping people entertained for a long time
    • Having enough store of food, water, enough daily supplies

Overcoming constraints

  • As suggested in Arthur C. Clarke‘s work, a space elevatorcould be constructed to overcome the gravitational field of earth. After that, sending spaceships to other planets does not require too much thrust to reach the destination of their choice. There would be issues in landing the aircraft of course. But, perhaps, a space elevator/orbital tower could be constructed in Mars too, which could ease the descent of the travelers onto the planet.
  • SpaceX is already coming up with reusable spaceships. This technology needs to be utilized into coming up with mass-produced spaceships that can seat up to 500-1000 people.
  • Have plenty of sports, movie theaters, gyms, offices, clubs, restaurants and other places of social gathering and business inside the spaceship.
  • Come up with solutions to growing natural food on the spaceship. Also, store or produce enough water (through some process perhaps) to sustain for the entire journey.
  • People may be attracted to the idea of taking a 5-10 year sabbatical from their full-time jobs, while giving them the opportunity to keep their skills sharp by giving them jobs in businesses which run on the spaceships.

Constraints removed & scaling achieved

With all the above constraints removed, it appears there is a scope to scale this business into a fleet of space-faring ships which run trips to Mars and other inhabitable moons or astronomical bodies in the solar system.


Post-script

As Elon Musk says, “we should become a space-faring civilization”. I think people could be attracted to undertake such a long journey by emphasizing the awesomeness of journeying into outer space. Sounds exotic and exciting!

I think the targeted persona could be people who are retired or interested in a sort of “early retirement” or in perhaps undertaking a “mini-retirement” from their careers.

Also, it is interesting to think in terms of toggling some of the individual constraints back and forth. Just overcoming the technical constraint of the earth’s gravitational field seems like a big step forwards in exploring not only economy space travel, but a host of other opportunities which could open up for mankind.

Success in this venture would look like having numerous happy and satisfied customers have traveled back and forth to Mars. In order for the business to grow, it needs a growing army of satisfied clientele who can tell others about their great experiences. Looking at the results of surveys and the number of people who have expressed genuine interest in traveling to Mars, it seems the market for this could be potentially big.

We could look at taking the help of space entrepreneurs such as Elon Musk, Richard Branson, scientists and astronauts.

Some of the worst case scenarios I can think of are:

  • Spacecraft are unsafe or unfit for travel and people become sick or die during the journey
  • Entire spaceship blows up because of some issue and everyone on board dies
  • Spacecraft do not coordinate well with each other and crash into each other resulting in deaths of everyone on board
  • Spaceship runs out of food
  • Agriculture on board the spaceship fails and no new food can be grown
  • Spaceship runs out of water
  • Spaceship runs out of clean air
  • People on board go crazy for some reason and start fighting with each other
  • The flight crew go crazy and start fighting with each other or with passengers
  • Flight crew get sick and die. Who flies the spaceship?
  • Other disasters
    • Aliens attack (!?)
    • Asteroid falls on spaceship
    • Guidance mechanism fails and spaceship drifts away from destination

Knowing and analyzing the above scenarios, we need to come up with strategies to handle all of them.

P.S. The title is in reference to the Cliff Richard song:

Opening relationships, closing sales

A small note on opening relationships, closing sales.

“The more you are grateful for what you have the more you will have to be grateful for” – Zig Ziglar

“Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness” – Seneca

After coming across the idea in a few books and talks in the recent past, I have tried to follow the practice of thanking people for their thoughtfulness. Random acts of gratitude are almost guaranteed to make anyone’s day. Also, in general, I have tried to develop a spirit of gratitude within myself. These practices have helped me on a personal and professional basis on many levels. This is definitely something I need to work on in an ongoing basis.

How tension is good for the soul

The word tension is often viewed in a negative light, along with a word like stress. However, of late, I have almost found myself looking forward to stressful situations since I realized that stress is one of the best and most effective ways to bring about growth. In nature, there is a process called hormesis, which refers to the growth that occurs on encountering minor stresses.

For example, our bones require small stressors in order to gain strength. Walking, sprinting and lifting weights are examples of helpful stressors for the bones. Of course, too much stress – like a big rock – will break our bones and likely kill us. At the same time, lying in bed for six months is guaranteed to make one’s bones brittle and weak. This indicates that this phenomenon is more of a spectrum, rather than being black and white. The concept of antifragility, as formulated by Nassim Taleb in his book Antifragile, I think applies well to this discussion.

Practicing silence

Silence as a tool has been great in helping me develop good relationships with the people around me. On many occasions, remaining silent and letting the other person speak has been helpful in getting to know them better. This is a way of indicating to the other person that one is interested in hearing what they are saying. It is also a way of giving importance to others.  I have realized this is a skill that I have had to work at. It forms part of an other-centered approach to life. I think this practice of other-centeredness develops beautifully out showing gratitude towards others. Practicing silence and listening to others forms a crucial part of opening a relationship.

A recent example where silence came in quite handy was in a recent sales transaction I was involved with. I wanted to buy a used car. After going to a dealership, I found the car I was looking for and made my offer to the salesperson. In this process, I found the practice of silence a great negotiating tool as it gives you the power to walk away at any time. In the end, I got what I thought was a good deal.

PS

For me, the best part of this idea is that it is an ongoing one.  As far as silence is concerned, of late I am finding myself very comfortable with silences. I read somewhere that as you are closer to a person, the more comfortable with sitting in silence with them, of course along with the usual talking. I would say that rather than pushing the other person, silence perhaps lets them to naturally fill it with their own true inner thoughts and feelings about any subject we may be talking about. This could possibly even help in resolving any disputes and, generally, help in building good relations.

I think the idea of goodfinding is great as it allows us to show appreciation to others. However, on many occasions, recognizing or even just acknowledging the other person is itself very helpful. I do think I would want to continue the below practices both in personal and professional life on a ongoing basis:

  • goodfinding
  • recognizing. acknowledging & showing appreciation
  • being silent and absorbing as much as possible from the thoughts and experiences of others

Of course, I would say I am no expert on these and I have indeed fumbled on many occasions. I do hope to learn from these mistakes and keep up this practice.

When it comes who benefits, I think expressing gratitude mainly benefits the relationship, which has the potential to benefit both myself and the other person.

I often find that most people give off bad vibes because of they may be having a tough day or going through some personal problems, not necessarily because they have some agenda against me (although this could very much possible in theory). The below Zig Ziglar video illustrates this well in my opinion:

Who’s it for?

Who’s it for?

What’s it for?

These are probably the two most important questions to be asked before launching any venture, be it a business or writing a book.

Identifying your market segment let’s you write something or build something that could have a really good chance of succeeding.

This analysis is for a novel I would like to write one day in the future.

Today, I do not have a story or a target audience in place. So, I am just thinking aloud about the idea of writing a story with a specific target audience in mind.

To take a common example, the Twilight series was written for young adults. Out of a fan-fiction written for Twilight, came the Fifty Shades series, which ended up being targeted towards a romance-reading, adult female audience.

Worldview

Since reading them in high school, I have been influenced by classic works by people like Dostoevsky, Dickens and Dumas. Apart from these, I love reading classic Indian philosophical and religious texts. Taking these and adding ideas from a number of modern non-fiction authors, I would like to combine my limited life experience and come up with a tale.

Who it’s for

It is for people interested in reading an old-fashioned story which turns out to be interesting and gripping.

What it’s for

The goal is to give people a window into the world of imagination and where it can lead us. Books can transport us to different worlds and change the way we look at the world.

Where there is a fit

A story such as this may resonate with who it is targeted towards. I feel like the target audience can be quite small initially. Depending on the feedback, the audience could be expanded.

Where there is a mismatch

The target audience may turn out to be too broad (like “all adults”) or vague or undefined.

P.S.

There are so many themes and tropes to explore. Having plenty of material to pick from can be a bad thing at times because one needs to be careful in selecting the best stuff. One wants the result to feel good long after having written it. It seems that whether it has any effect on the reader and finding the magical utility is a matter of trial and error.

Without a doubt, reading books has changed my worldview several times over. I have been moved by too many authors and their writings to recount everyone.

For example, Brothers Karamazov showed me the different types of human nature and how, on many occasions, we can sink to our lowest. In the midst of such situations, Alexei Karamazov stands out with his peaceful and godly nature. The Count of Monte Cristoshows the Count doing crazy things to seek revenge and regain his own.

Even the popular books of today have an their impact wherein people get to identify their own dreams and desires in these stories. I’d want to inspire people, both young and old, to follow common sense, not do stupid things and respect ancestral wisdom.

Figuring out the “why, how, what” was quite useful.

why> As humans, we somehow have the tendency to want to tell a story employing both our imagination and creativity and to read such stories.
how> Have to commit to write around 1000 words a day, spending an hour and half of spare time. With this, accounting for holidays etc, the target is to complete the book in around 3-4 months.
what> The end result being a quality product.

Argue against yourself

Every time one does this, it is a great exercise: argue against yourself. To play the devil’s advocate against one’s own beliefs and convictions can on many occasions be an exhilarating and educational experience.

One of the key aspects of intellectual debate and growth is to treat opposing viewpoints with the respect they deserve. It is almost always the case that if you clearly and convincingly argue the opposing viewpoint before presenting your argument, your argument will come out the stronger for it. Many times, one finds opponents straw manning each other, which leads to friction and talking past one another, but not to much enlightenment or intelligent discourse.

From an Ancient Indian perspective, debates between opposing viewpoints fall into three categories: honest debate (vaada), bad debate (jalpa) and wrangling debate (vitanda). On the other hand, a harmonious dialogue or conversation is characterized as samvaada. Upon reading many of the Sanskrit texts of the various philosophical schools, one comes across a style of writing wherein the opposing viewpoint is presented first. Then, based on the various logical premises, one’s own argument is presented as clearly as possible to the best of one’s ability.

Below is a small essay written by me from such an opposing viewpoint.

Universal basic income is a form of social security in which all citizens or residents of a country receive a regular, unconditional sum of money, either from a government or some other public institution, independent of any other income. I personally feel this concept is going to become essential going forward with the rise of automation, artificial intelligence and related technologies. In this essay, I am going to take the position of someone who believes that having a universal basic income is not a good idea.

Basic income, as a concept, is one that is inherently flawed. It claims to address the needs of supporting a population when automation and computers have taken away most jobs. However, it fails to do so and leads to unpleasant consequences for the country. In this essay I try to lay out some key arguments against this concept.

Tax burden increases

Firstly, it imposes a bigger burden on the tax payer. The tax burden on citizens today is already quite massive. Providing a basic income to citizens on top of the existing programs will require more taxation, which will likely be opposed by the public.

Incentive to work is lost

Having a universal basic income will take away the incentive for people to work. Today, many people are incentivized to work because they need to eat. Providing a universal basic income will take this reason away from people, thus causing massive lack of productivity and unemployment.

Having lost the incentive to work, people will become lazy. Fewer people will be interested in studying or researching. So, this could easily lead to a stoppage of scientific progress. Also, economic progress may be affected by universal basic income because people may no longer be interested in innovating by coming up with new products and services.

Personal identity is lost

Today, for many people, the income derived from their job forms a basic part of personal identity. So, people will struggle to replace this very basic part of their identity. This may affect a large swath of the population psychologically, leading to a public health crisis.

Unemployment increases

Ironically, it may allow computers and automation to take away more jobs, since companies will not need to pay workers anymore. Basically, having a basic income will take the pressure off businesses to provide employment to society. Thus, most businesses will opt to automate to the fullest extent possible. Also, even more jobs will be outsourced and offshoring will become more rampant.

Unrest among younger population

It will cause unrest among the youth of the country. The youth, who have will have lost the incentive to find a job, will look to other pursuits. It has been seen on many occasions throughout history that a young population with no interest in careers or jobs will turn to anti-social, violent behavior.

Challenge to existing programs

It will interfere with the existing social welfare programs. There are even some senseless suggestions from the proponents of basic income that it could replace the welfare system. People who are receiving social benefits will now need to be provided this additional benefit. This will interfere with the purpose of having a social safety net, which is to provide a cushion to citizens facing difficulties such as unemployment, poverty, old age and sickness. People losing jobs are provided unemployment benefits as a stopgap measure until they apply for or find new jobs. So, such people may be discouraged from looking for or finding new jobs, because of receiving a basic income from the government.

It will require enormous change to the way the government functions. Currently, many government agencies are in place to perform a number of tasks. Now, having to provide a basic income to people would mean that new departments will have to be formed in the government, leading to massive upheavals in government infrastructure and may cost the taxpayer dearly.