77: TikTok

I’m thinking about TikTok. As I browse through the web, I see that the most creative and fun videos are always coming from TikTok, and the creativity and influence is only increasing. Let’s talk a bit about it.

If you haven’t downloaded and used TikTok, you’re in the minority. The service has over 1 BILLION daily active users and is by far the best place to consume short videos. The company is likely worth $200 billion and is not only the most valuable startup but one of the most valuable companies in the world.

Some interesting facts about TikTok and ByteDance, the company that owns TikTok:

  • The only real competitor to Google and Facebook is ByteDance. If anyone is taking down the big dogs, it’s them.
  • The company’s roots are in a news aggregator in China (called Toutiao) that is a dominant source of news in China. The company did $20 billion in revenue in 2019. So, not small potatoes.
  • TikTok’s success is due to many reasons but mainly its slick user experiences. There is no signin or account creation required, it’s mobile-first in a much better way than YouTube, and videos are super short – initially limited to 15 seconds which reduces the friction of both creation and consumption.

  • There’s lots of content. They claim 34% of US users shoot content daily.
  • The cross-cultural nature of user-generated video has stronger network effects than traditional news. A silly video uploaded in Thailand is potentially interesting to someone in Romania and the US.
  • It’s doesn’t rely at all on friends, following, or even having an account. Their algorithm recommends content based on an individual user’s view history, re-watches, likes, comments, shares, and even post-view activity. It’s all AI. The AI is the product really.
  • It grew by spending TONS of money. It spend $3 million a day throughout 2019 to acquire users.

There’s lots more I could say about it but this is clearly the era of TikTok and if you think that you’ve heard the end of it, well just wait. It’s just now reaching more and more people and we’re probably 2 years away from mainstream media realizing it exists which means we’ll get a whole other round of “have you heard of TikTok?”

A few sample videos from yesterday that rolled up just so you can see range. It’s fishing, jokes, and lots and lots of dancing:

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Content Marketing: Telling a Story

I recently listened to a great commencement speech by Robert Krulwich about the power of storytelling and it made me think about the power of narrative and stories in my business.

See, I work in content marketing. To most people, that’s a dull phrase that doesn’t mean anything. But to me, content marketing is the power of businesses using stories and entertainment and ideas to connect with their customers. It’s using these stories instead of banner ads, popup ads, billboards and other branding tactics that try to distract and interrupt you. It’s a powerful change in the marketing and sales landscape.

The speech talked about two gentleman who told stories. The first is sir Isaac Newton. Back in the day Newton was asked why he made his famous book about gravity and laws of motion so hard to read, he replied that that he considered writing a popular version that average people might understand but he wanted “To avoid being baited by little smaterrers in mathematics.” Newton intentionally wrote a book in dense scholarly Latin that contained lots of math so that only serious scholars could follow. In other words, Isaac newton didn’t care if he was understood by average folks.  He did not believe in the power of storytelling.

The second was the story of Galileo. He, unlike Newton, had a flair for narrative. He wanted to tell people what was on his mind. In his famous book, ‘The Dialogues‘ about the sun being the center of the solar system, he didn’t write it in Latin. He wrote it Italian for a mass audience. The writing was gorgeous and poetic and funny. It was a running conversation between good friends who spend four days together in Venice. Their argument is between whether the earth is the center of the solar system or is it the sun. He has little pictures throughout the book and short chapters so it’s easy to read. There are numbers in the book and apparently if you skip them, you don’t miss that much. Because it was so easy to read and became such a hit he was actually sentenced to house arrest for the rest of his life. His stories had that much power.

I see businesses every day who want to connect to buyers and impact their lives. Not all businesses realize it yet, but their stories are competing every second with everything else on the web. If you’re selling cars, you’re competing with John Oliver, Facebook and hamsters eating burritos for attention and time, and the only way you can attain it is to make your content compelling and give your potential buyers a reason to read, follow and market to you.

Their are some companies that have harnessed their inner Galileo and told some great stories that are useful, and they have buyers eating out of they palms.  That’s the way it works.  

Hunter Report: 1.5 Years In

Well the time is cursing by and Hunter is growing up really fast. I thought i’d take another moment to reflect on how things are going.  Some thoughts:

Hunter’s Development

Man is he growing.  The first year now seemed more about physical development. He was just getting bigger and learning how to use his limbs.  Now he seems more about exercising his brain.  He’s constantly trying to figure stuff out.  How to open jars. How doors work.  Why switching a light switch here changes the brightness over there.  Lots of stuff like this are all the rage at our house right now.  So much so that i have found that if you’re not challenging what he knows, he gets bored quickly and then things spiral out of control.  He’s a high bandwidth kid.  I have no idea if this is unusual or not. 

Because this is now the norm, he’s much more of a little person these days.  He has expressions and words and a personality. He’s definitely a human and, to me, he’s getting cuter and cuter. 

The Tradeoff

I recently heard Shondra Rhimes’ Dartmouth commencement address where she talks about how she’s both a working woman and a mother and how she juggles it all.  Her answer: she doesn’t.  I know how she feels.  Prior to Hunter, I would work pretty late almost every night.  Now I like to see Hunter before he goes to sleep.  There’s a struggle between being doing well at work and seeing my family, and I don’t think there’s a good answer.  Ultimately, I’ll always be failing at one of them.  I’m having to get used to that fact.  It’s quite a change. 

Shondra says it much better than I:

If I am killing it on a Scandal script for work, I’m probably missing bath and story time at home. If I am at home sewing my kids’ Halloween costumes, I am probably blowing off a script I was supposed to rewrite. If I’m accepting a prestigious award, I’m missing my baby’s first swim lesson. If I am at my daughter’s debut in her school musical, I am missing Sandra Oh’s last scene ever being filmed at Grey’s Anatomy.

If I am succeeding at one, I am inevitably failing at the other. That is the trade off. That is the Faustian bargain one makes with the devil that comes with being a powerful working woman who is also a powerful mother. You never feel one hundred percent okay, you never get your sea legs, you are always a little nauseous. Something is always lost.

Old People

I’m constantly amazed how similar babies are to old people.  The drooling, the babbling, the lack of coordination.  Just very very similar. Circle of life. 

Default State of Happiness

When Hunter wakes up in the morning, he’s smiling. By default, he’s happy.  He’s giggling and smiling unless something happens to make him upset. It makes me think that this is the default state for most humans.  I often think about this.  I wonder that if we have to have something negative happen to us to be in a permanent bad mood.  I see people yelling at traffic or walking the street with a frown on their face.  They weren’t born that way.  Something has happened.  When i’m feeling upset or sad, I try to remember that.  It’s the world interacting with me that got me there.  It’s not how I am by default.  I like that thought. 


Games and Generation G

Here’s a fact for you. The average IQ of the human race is increasing and the rate of increase is increasing since the 1990’s.  It’s called the Flynn Effect.

I just learned that because i watched this good TED talk about video games and gamification.

He talks about what actually makes people smarter and then argues that all the items that do can be found in games.  Items such as:

He also talks about a guy in White Bear Lake MN who was a successful businessman.  When his kids went to school, he was appalled at the education they were getting so he quit his job, got a masters in education, and took over an elementary school class.  He then replaced the entire curriculum with a video game-based curriculum.

Did it work?  Well, in 18 weeks his kids went from a below 3rd grade level to an above 4th grade level.  In only 18 weeks. It was because games for them were fun and multiplayer.

This speaker, Gabe Zichermann, talks about this generation of millenials, 126 million of them, and how they use games as their primary means of entertainment.  This has a profound effect on society, and you can see it in the dashboard of electric cars, in Nike’s website, and all over the place.

He tells the story of a guy in Sweden, Kevin, who made a traffic camera lottery system.  Before Kevin, Sweden had a system where it takes a picture of your car if it’s going over the limit, then determines how much money the drivers make, and then issues tickets at higher prices to those who make more money and lower prices for those who make less money.  Kevin re-engineered the system so it also takes a picture of those people who are driving under the speed limit and it enters them into a lottery – a lottery to win all the proceeds from the other tickets from people speeding.  This is game-thinking where you take a negative reinforcement loop and turn it into a positive. It works. The average speed is now 20% less than it was before.

Corporations will also be doing it:

The speech is great.  Thanks to Patrick for sending it my way. All of these facts point to a future that’s pretty different than it is today.  Things are faster.  There are rewards everywhere. There is a lot of collaboration. I’m actually looking forward to it.






We are So Lucky, Indeed

Just listened to a great commencement speech by Michael Lewis (aka: my google search nemesis).  The end of the speech is great.  He talks to the graduating Princeton class about luck and the role it plays in life.  Here’s the transcript.  I loved it:

I now live in Berkeley, California. A few years ago, just a few blocks from my home, a pair of researchers in the Cal psychology department staged an experiment. They began by grabbing students, as lab rats. Then they broke the students into teams, segregated by sex. Three men, or three women, per team. Then they put these teams of three into a room, and arbitrarily assigned one of the three to act as leader. Then they gave them some complicated moral problem to solve: say what should be done about academic cheating, or how to regulate drinking on campus.

Exactly 30 minutes into the problem-solving the researchers interrupted each group. They entered the room bearing a plate of cookies. Four cookies. The team consisted of three people, but there were these four cookies. Every team member obviously got one cookie, but that left a fourth cookie, just sitting there. It should have been awkward. But it wasn’t. With incredible consistency the person arbitrarily appointed leader of the group grabbed the fourth cookie, and ate it. Not only ate it, but ate it with gusto: lips smacking, mouth open, drool at the corners of their mouths. In the end all that was left of the extra cookie were crumbs on the leader’s shirt.

This leader had performed no special task. He had no special virtue. He’d been chosen at random, 30 minutes earlier. His status was nothing but luck. But it still left him with the sense that the cookie should be his.

This experiment helps to explain Wall Street bonuses and CEO pay, and I’m sure lots of other human behavior. But it also is relevant to new graduates of Princeton University. In a general sort of way you have been appointed the leader of the group. Your appointment may not be entirely arbitrary. But you must sense its arbitrary aspect: you are the lucky few. Lucky in your parents, lucky in your country, lucky that a place like Princeton exists that can take in lucky people, introduce them to other lucky people, and increase their chances of becoming even luckier. Lucky that you live in the richest society the world has ever seen, in a time when no one actually expects you to sacrifice your interests to anything.

All of you have been faced with the extra cookie. All of you will be faced with many more of them. In time you will find it easy to assume that you deserve the extra cookie. For all I know, you may. But you’ll be happier, and the world will be better off, if you at least pretend that you don’t.

I couldn’t agree more.  I feel completely lucky to be on the earth at this time, in this country, with my family and with all the other things that have fallen into place for me.  It’s great to stop every now and then and acknowledge it.

You can watch the whole thing video: