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TBT, Platform Thinking Workshop with Sangeet Paul


This was 2014. I've been a platform devotee for a long time! I count meeting platform guru Sangeet Paul F2F (he's normally in Singapore) and his platform workshop as a highlight of the year.

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Here are my notes from the Platform Thinking workshop with Sangeet Paul of platformed.info at 500 Startups in San Francisco. Sangeet talked for 4 hours without stopping so…these are just the highlights. 


After the age of pipes (where value is created upstream and consumed downstream), in the age of connectivity, the platform is king.

A platform is a business model that connects 2 people to exchange a particular unit of value with each other. 

A platform needs to set the conditions for that exchange to take place between producers of content and consumers of content. (They might be the same person, or switch roles, as we know a producer will also consume and a consumer will become a producer.)



There are 3 sources of value:

  1. standalone value, like tools for producers

  2. network value, like access for producers to reach consumers

  3. off-platform value that enables the core interaction, like guarantees, user incentives, social proof


To kickstart growth, the user workflow needs to create value for him from day 1.

Then leverage existing users to bring in new users. Scale network activity with feedback loops.

Pull the core unit of value by pulling the producers.

We need to be watching for the killer use case that will ignite our platform.


Define rules to govern the interaction. How do you manage curation of value to ensure quality?

Create conditions for trust. The value has to scale, like cumulative value of collectors, a mass of people following your account, etc.

What kind of data do we need to match the two sides? Acquire that required data, import information so it can deliver value. Enable minimum data collection to be able to serve value and populate the user’s experience with relevant content.

Users hate giving info, but we need to ask for it right at the start and little by little, and often. Gather enough data on day 1 to bring the user back a second time.

Personalization is the outcome of curation. This is how to avoid reverse network effects (people leave when it gets too big and not targeted enough to them.)

Build initial value for one side of the interaction, and that value has to last long enough so we can pitch it to the other side. (This is the single user utility I’ve been talking about!)

Find the initial bait, the initial source of value.

Build a cycle, then repeat it. Focus concentrations around an event, a time and a space, for instance. People came onto Twitter to discuss SXSW but then stayed on the service for other reasons.


Consumer first: value without producers need to start with supply. Fake it til you make it. Fake initial activity. 

Producer first: value without consumers and non-network value are tools for single user utility.

  • Provide a creation space to create and display content that attracts more creators and draws in consumers. Flickr, Instagram and Scoopit did this.

  • Create a customer service tool. This helps producer manage existing consumers. Kickstarter and Skillshare did this.

  • Pitch the traction to the other side. LinkedIn and Quora and Facebook focused on space (this tools give you access to people in Silicon Valley and college campuses), Twitter focused on time (this tool makes you more efficient at an event).



If users sign up and don’t return, how long before you’ve lost a user?

What are the minimum number of actions to get value?

How do you ensure new users take these actions?


Activating producers

Implement producer activation.

Dropbox gives you a list of what to do, invite friends, exposes users to actions that provide value. User needs to experience network feedback within how many days of usage?


Activating consumers

Enable the minimum network formation to see value. Add minimum network formation: “Who to follow” feature for new users. Second Screen should supply users with content and people to follow upon joining us. “People you may know”. Facebook has found that users need 10 connections within 7 days to continue using the service. Second Screen needs to contact users to get them to add more connections in that first week of signing up.

Only activated users bring network effects. We need to track activations. We need to figure out which side we want to activate first.



How can people spread word about our product without talking about it? That’s virality.

Sender — sends something from platform — the value unit has to be organically spreadable


External network




Sender motivation (that has to be aligned with core use case like Kickstarter user’s motivation is “gather support for my cause” and Kickstarter matches it with “tell the world about your cause”)

Spreadable value

External network

Recipient motivation


Optimize the value unit to spread. 

Add call to action. “Get your own”, “Download the app”. 



Production feedback loop:  Curation prompt, creation act.

Show producers feedback that encourages them the platform works, and show consumers that the relevance is increasing.

Consumption feedback loop: consumption feed, consumption act.

Value units pass through a filter (that’s curation). Then that consumption data is used to improve filter over time. This ensures people come back. Prioritize and institute a way to improve the filter. Examples of gathering relevance feedback: “I don’t want to see this” button. “I don’t like this” button.


Tell people “how many people viewed your profile” so they know their presence is working out.

Reactivation feedback:

Off-platform email invites people back with relevant content. Amazon does this with peer consumption feedback. Second Screen needs reactivation feedback.


Producers use the platform to get exposure. The feedback loop shows how the platform works for them, demonstrates the value of the platform for both producers and consumers.

Minimize friction between production and consumption. 

Curation to ensure platform delivers value. Editorial curation is how a platform ensures value in its early days. Algorithmic comes next, then social.


The 4 points of curation:

platform access

value creation

value distribution

value consumption


How do you decide when you need curation? If negative content impacts the brand, you need to curate right at the beginning.


The earlier stage you are curating, the harder it is to get users on your platform. The less activity, the higher the quality. Focus on spreadable value units like, a click to tweet link in a block of text: that’s curation at consumption.

Rather than features, think about what is being exchanged. Focus on tools that enable it. 

Creating cumulative value and ensure users don’t abandon the platform over time is how you create a competitive advantage. You want increasing value. You have to keep leveling up. How? Gamification. 

Increasing value:

  • collection - The more I collect or build, the more useful it becomes. At LinkedIn, the more I enhance my profile, the more opportunities I will have.

  • reputation - Consider ratings for producers. Like reputation on Fiverr or Quora, where quality is front and center. Stackoverflow uses badges, where reputation leads to influence. Reputation may govern influence on network access. Other examples: Spotify playlists, Wikipedia where influence leads to more creation power on the platform.

  • data - the more you use the platform, the more relevant it becomes. Pinterest does this.

  • influence


If you achieve network effects you can still fail when a competitor arrives if you didn’t enable cumulative value.



Value unit failure (low quality content or weirdo producers), filter failure (think Farmville or Candy Crush Saga).



Insular culture discourages new users.

Curation and traction work against each other. You have to get this balance right, then open it up down the line.

Ask for bite sized actions with feedback in exchange for data. “Which movies should I watch?”

Construct as an incentive, a gradual progression on a larger goal like filing your profile at LinkedIn. It’s gamification that gets the user invested. Also try to pull from other sources of data like Facebook.

Minimal Viable Platform enables exactly one interaction. Start narrow. Then you can layer more interactions on top. Order goes like this: concentration->curation->collection. LinkedIn focused on professionals, then recruiters, then thought leaders, now readers.  



To scale, look at everything your employees are doing on the platform. Ask how can I get users to do that?

Ways to scale a platform: change who can be a creator or consumer; change your value unit; add new  role for a new interaction



  1. pay for access

  2. pay for attention

  3. pay for lesser ads

  4. pay for tools

  5. pay for quality

  6. pay for curated supply


Coaching at Startup Grind Global Program 2018 Pitch Bootcamp

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I'm excited to serve as a Pitch Coach later this month for the Startup Grind Global Program 2018 Pitch Bootcamp hosted/mc'd by TD Lowe and her team at 42Phi Ventures. The event at Fox Forum in Redwood City is sponsored by Silicon Valley Bank.

TD Lowe is the founder and CEO of EnovationNation and 42Phi Partners are a diverse set of individuals devoted to fixing Venture's opportunity pipeline, inclusivity, and mentorship deficit.

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The day precedes the launch of Startup Grind's Global Conference, where TD is the team member in charge of StartupGrind startup program which filters the best performing startups coming to the conference for the investor community.

TBT, training expat entrepreneurs to use social media

This was seven years ago, in Istanbul: talking to a group from the International Women of Istanbul about using social media for entrepreneurial ventures based on intellectual property -- aka creative entrepreneurship! 

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We started with a round of introductions and got an overview of the various enterprises run or being developed by IPWIN members. We heard distinct stories, and overlapping concerns. “How can I sell my service when the local market doesn’t value it yet?” “How much of myself should I expose?” “I had to take time off to raise my family, and we moved a lot but I want to get a career started in Istanbul.” “How do I present my company, my product, my idea, my brand?” “I run multiple businesses, should I merge them in one site or have separate Facebook pages?” “Which language should I blog in, how do I decide if French or Spanish is best?” “I’m trying to figure out what new business is going to last.”


Here are some of the issues we discussed during the meeting.


Why is social media important today?

Social media used professionally is an unrivaled way to become visible to a global audience at very low cost, by building a virtual network and sharing your expertise. People now want to do business with people, not faceless corporations. Even big companies are now trying to appear “more human”. Solo entrepreneurs everywhere can thrive in this new online environment.


What does the ‘social’ part of social media mean?

It means user-generated web content -- as opposed to static web pages -- that allows us to interact with each other through various web technologies. Think of “liking” a Facebook page, or tweeting a blog post, or even commenting on a blog. We can get feedback on our work, we can respond to customers in a public forum and demonstrate the quality of our service, we can meet and learn from others who are interested in the same things, and we can share our best discoveries on the web with our own networks.


What is creative entrepreneurship?

A successful business provides a product or service that solves a problem or fills a need. Creative entrepreneurs design offerings based on their personal inclinations, skills and talents. Often these develop out of a need to live and work in non-traditional situations. Social media is a wonderful vehicle to build professional projects on the web regardless of your location, time or language constraints. Creative entrepreneurship is a perfect solution to the problem faced by people who move around a lot or live in cultures not their own. It’s how to “bloom where you’re planted,” as Tara’s Turquoise Poppy catchphrase suggests.


What is a global niche?

Coined by Anastasia for global citizens to feel at home,  a global niche is where you uniquely belong in the world, both personally and professionally. Your sweetspot. A place occupied completely and perfectly by you -- so naturally there are no competitors, there are only neighbors. It’s where you can operate to your potential, and embrace all the worlds you love to belong to. Finding your global niche is part of being a successful creative entrepreneur. 


How do I define my profile on the net?

Building your global niche -- in this case, a professional web platform --  involves uncovering your place in the world and defining that place on the web. Inevitably one of the first steps in establishing your digital profile is communicating who you are in a way that others can relate to and may include using text, images, audio or video. For those who are in the process of self-discovery, social media is an extremely useful tool to explore and have conversations with like-minded global citizens.


Does being accessible on the web require extensive personal exposure?

Social media facilitates your interaction with others. People want to know who you are before connecting with you whether personally or professionally, help them find ways to relate to you. You’re not required to share private information that might compromise your security. By using a clear photo of yourself in your profile and including a link to your hub site people can learn exactly what you want them to know. (Don’t know what a hub site is? Find out in Tara and Anastasia’s free email tutorials.)


How can I find potential clients, customers and collaborators using social media?

Your ideal customer or client (or employer, if you’re a job seeker!) finds you by entering specific keywords into a search engine like Google. By entering these keywords yourself you’ll learn where you rank amidst the competition and you’ll also see where conversations relevant to your niche are taking place around the web. Social media enables you to monitor these conversations (with tools like Twitter and Google alerts) and participate in them with your own ideas, expertise and professional solutions.


How do I fit social media into my work day?

Social media is useful to creative entrepreneurs because it allows you to work in a way that suits your lifestyle. Setting your own schedule for publishing content as well as interacting on sites like Facebook and Twitter means you can work at your own pace. Keep your posts short and “mindcast” rather than “lifecast”. Share important thoughts, what you are reading, what moves you -- not mundane things like what you had for breakfast. Give your network value through the things you share. Use automation and syndication services to reach relevant audiences at key times around the world -- without actually working around the clock!


What is my ROI for the time I spend using social media?

Using social media to build your network and reputation is an investment in yourself. The time you dedicate will pay off when you want to sell your product or service - whether it’s a book, a necklace or a coaching program. Use social media to educate yourself and stay on the cutting edge of your field. In today’s market, trust and attention are valuable commodities that you can only develop by being well-informed, authentic and providing useful, accessible content.



Judging the all-star Collider Cup at UC Berkeley

Excited to be a pitch judge for this all-star event at UC Berkeley next week!!


The Collider Cup is Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology's all-star showcase of the best student teams from Fall 2017.

Teams pitch to panels of professors, investors and industry experts as they vie to win the grand prize, the Collider Cup!

Thanks to Gigi Wang for the invite.

#startups #venture #ColliderCup #UCBerkeley 

Building a multidisciplinary engineering program for scale

...you need to systematize the curriculum and delivery.

Here's a day of Challenge Lab training led by Ken Singer at UC Berkeley, to get a set of potential instructors for 2018 on the same page.


This was a really fun day! Got to connect with my fellow European Innovation Academy mentors Tommaso Di Bartolo, Mike Kyriacou & Stephen D. Torres, among other new friends & colleagues.

A delegation from Finland was also there, because this multidisciplinary Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology class in the engineering school is being built for scale. Really cool to see it happening and take part. 

Judging at the Berkeley Method of Entrepreneurship Summer 2017

It was so much fun to mentor & judge the tech startups at Berkeley Method of Entrepreneurship (BMOE) at the Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology. 120 global participants gathered at UC Berkeley for a one week immersive experience into entrepreneurship, team-building, mentorship, and more.

Here's the team I & my fellow judge chose as the winner of our 40-person cohort: BrainyT, an AI-for-manufacturing going to market in Brazil.

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I also ran into familiar faces from last month's extreme accelerator in Europe, the European Innovation Academy #eia2017italy: participant & UCB student Bailey Farren, and fellow EIA chief mentors UCB faculty Stephen Torres and Pamela Day, who also was a judge at BMOE!

Looking forward to Harika Kalluri's upcoming interview with me and Pamela for the Berkeley Point Of View. We yakked Harika's ear off about tech investing, product building, and the empowering spirit of entrepreneurship.

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A few snaps from some of the seven venture pitches my fellow judge Kal Deutsch (managing partner and founding investor of The Batchery, a Bay Area-based global incubator for seed stage startups) and I judged.

Good job to these teams from Berkeley, Denmark, Brazil & Hong Kong:

  • BrainyT, the AI for small manufacturers
  • SoWa the wireless professional speakers
  • A Slice of Reality interactive media system
  • the ed-tech play for lesson plans Athena
  • CoffeeX, a connected coffee kiosk
  • Candle Sense electric candle for memory boosting
  • LedoAds, the marketplace for space ads

Thanks to UCBerkeley's entrepreneurship faculty Gigi Wang, the director of BMOE, for including me in her awesome program!

Photo: Gigi Wang

Photo: Gigi Wang

Congrats to BrainyT for making it into the top 3 startups at BMOE Summer 2017!

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Thanks to Harika Kalluri for the interview! You can read it at the Sutardja Center site here.

Considering the Arab Innovation Academy in Doha, Qatar

I'm considering joining the Arab Innovation Academy (AIA). It's patterned on the European Innovation Academy, this new extreme accelerator for the Arab world is run by Maher Hakim, the managing director of the Qatar Science & Technology Park. I had the pleasure of working directly with Maher when he was the Chief of Chief Mentors at the European Innovation Academy in Nice in 2016! The AIA program will be delivered for the first time in Doha, Qatar in January 2018 

In the Winner's Circle: 50% of my teams won the 2017 European Innovation Academy, Italy

(To my teams: you are all stars!!)

Giving my Day 7 keynote in Turin, on how to build revenue-producing and meaningful community. "Find why your first users are invested and then deliver on their motivations," was among my recommendations to the participants of Europe's largest extreme accelerator

It was my pleasure to be the chief mentor to six start up teams in the Gaming, Media & Entertainment sector at the European Innovation Academy last month in Turin, Italy.

For ten foundational days, I guided 30 participants through team and business building before additional specialist mentors joined us to take them to pitch their startups to Silicon Valley and global investors. 

Out of 95 total teams, 4 of my teams progressed to the Pitching Carousel of 40 teams which presented to venture capitalists

  • Sympha, a creative exchange for the indie music community
  • aLive, a realtime nightlife promotion platform
  • ARCatalogs, an augmented reality play for restaurants
  • Kumpa, a gamification app that turns exercise into social workouts

3 of my teams then made it into the Top 10 winner's circle. You can read the Italian press on the winners.

So, 5 of my 6 teams made it to the final rounds of the program. That means 83% of our cohort 'showed' in the final rounds of the program.  This is a stupendous achievement, congratulations to all of you!

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This is Kumpa, a sports gamification start-up that transforms your favorite games into fun and social workouts.

Shout out to these international mentors who also worked with my cohort on: marketing (Americans Jesse Leimgruber, PJ Leimgruber, and Italian Francesco Fiume), IT (Polish Bartek Jazwinski), and design (Estonian Tanel Eero), and, team dynamics (Italian Claudia Chiavarino). Also, thanks to Federico Mammano, my fellow chief mentor in the other Gaming, Media, and Entertainment cohort, for his pitching challenges and AR expertise! 

This is ARCatalogs which makes augmented reality menus for restaurants.

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This is aLive, a nightlife platform where users can see and share what's happening around them in real time, leveraging the power of influencers. aLive made it to the Pitching Carousel round.


Here's BidCar, my sixth team, which was building a blind auction for car sales. Chief Business Officer Miguel Valdez delivered a 1 minute story-based pitch on Day 6 in front of another gaming, media, entertainment cohort and our design and IT mentors watching, on the right:

For your accomplishments in team building and business building, congrats to the winners, the carousel pitchers, all the teams of the Gaming, Media, and Entertainment cohorts, and all the teams of EIA Turin 2017. It was fun mentoring you and I look forward to seeing what you do next!


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