Friday, August 29, 2008

Zipf’s Law + Blue Ocean Strategy = Business Viability

Zipf’s Law
It say the Winner will get twice as much as the Runner-Up, and the Runner-Up will get twice as much as the Second Runner-Up. For example, the Gold Medalist will get 100K rewards money, and the Silver Medalist will get 50K and the Bronze Medalist will get 25K.

Blue Ocean Strategy (almost)
Basically, you need to be the champion of your domain. You could either
  1. Be a winner by differentiation and making the competition irrelevant, or create a whole new segment or sub segment. For example, if you can’t be the best in Accounting, be the best in Accounting for Medical Sector.
  2. You could target a real niche.
  3. Or you could do the old fashion way through hard work with lots of brains and cash.
No matter what, you need to be number 1 in something.

No matter what business where are in, we need to be number 1 in any particular segment, new segment, cross segment or sub segment. Just be number 1, be it King of Travel or King of Travel in Bhutan (of course revenue will be much smaller, but people will know you if they intend to travel Bhutan).

What do I see?
I guess this is a very simple, yet important and enlightening fact. For example, JobStreet is the king on online job. JobsDB might be second, and probably is 50% less richer than JobStreet. The rest (more than a dozen of them) is pretty much dead or not really profitable, such as Best Jobs, Job City, Job Link, etc. JobStreet can demand RM 300 per job posting, while no one event bothered to advertise at the 4th job portal onwards in Malaysia even it’s for free.

We need to improvise and apply some sort of blue ocean strategy or something like that. Some job recruitment agencies are still very profitable by becoming the personalized head hunter for big corporation; of course some specialized in bringing in foreign labor. Perhaps there is still space for the part-time job segment, or classified odd jobs such as house cleaner, painter, data entry clerk, promoter, etc. Or there can be a specialized job portal for IT Jobs or Education. At least your business shall be well known in a particular segment. If you need a part-time job, go to; if you need an IT job, go to

Personally I don’t feel that it is a worthy business venture (especially for the Internet) if you don’t have a strategy to be the number 1 or 2, unless you plan to open up a convenient shop or clinic. Practically you don’t get anything for being the 5th best in Malaysia, and even the no 1 might not be very profitable depending on how lucrative the market is. If you can be the best in the US, Europe or Asia or The World, that is really fantastic.

A lot of business idea might sound cool, easy, fun, useful and etc. Before venturing full-fledged in to it
  1. Check out the competitors. What is their weakness? Could you beat them by being better in terms of features, usability, relevance or content? If you don’t know your enemy, you can’t win the war.
  2. What is your strategy to be number 1? Do you have a plan which you have at least some confident in executing it with your current resources? If you don’t, don’t start until you could think of something; or try something else.
  3. Just be ready for a lot of hard work, determination and perseverance. And also cash reserve to fuel the next 6 months to 1 year, or you could choose a less risky road of part-timing.
I had seen people building a better property website in terms of feature and functionality than iProperty, but there is only 2 property listed on the website. This is a real downfall of a typical programmer. Anyone can build a better website, but very few can build something useful that people would actually want to use. Please think beyond feature and technicality; think of content creation and strategy to get people to use your website.

Sometimes even I forgotten about this and jump into the bandwagon of creating something fun. It's important to know that I will eventually be number 1 to give me the right motivation and strategy to be satisfied in the end.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Alpha Review: The Dip by Seth Godin

What is The Dip?
Lets take learning Ping Pong for example, it is a fun game and it is pretty easy to pick up, but probably very hard to master and beat the Chinese to win a gold medal in Olympics.

Thus, we have the Dip curve. Initially we have some success and fun by putting in some effort, and then we found it hard to be excellent or to be the national champion. From here, we could either quit or push in through long hours with a lot of determination and preservation to reach the top, being the best in the world.

The Dip is a Gate to keep Mediocre People Out

The Dip is “the slog between starting something and mastering it”. Most things are easy to learn, but difficult to master. It’s pretty easy to be a shoe maker, but not everyone is Jimmy Choo. It probably takes passion, talent, luck and a long period of determination and preservation for Jimmy Choo to succeed. If it is so damn easy, everyone would have been Jimmy Choo. It’s the scarcity and hardship which make it valuable and sweet. Every year more and more people would quit; and those who hold on and finally move on stage shall reap the reward.

Knowing when to Quit
If you can’t be one of the best, perhaps you should focus on something you could. Just like iPod probably had cross the Dip for MP3 market, Wii had won the Gaming Console market and Toyota triumph the Car marker. Should Linux quite the consumer OS market, or should Microsoft give up on the Search market? The Dip is something like the Chasm, it need to be crossed; too long in the hole consume resources and achieving mediocre.

Zipf's Law

There is a vast different between number 1 and the rest. The number 1 Operating System in the world got 90% of the market share, and the number 1 search engine is having 80% marker share. There is a vast difference between number 1 and number 2. So it’s important to be in the first place to gain distinctive advantage; besides, no one remember who is second.

All Kind of Graph

Besides the Dip, there is Cul-De-Sac (dead end, remain stagnant for time to come) and Cliff (pass it peaks and going down hill). So you need to indentify what graph are you in, and whether to quit or push on. Knowing the Dip could be tricky; either you quite too early or you might be fighting a lost course.

The Dip aka Crossing the Charm aka Blue Ocean Strategy?
I think the underlying foundation is pretty much the same. Find a niche (or create one) market, be the best in the niche, and use this as the base to conquer other markets. If you can’t be the king of search, then be the king of pornography search (and you can be sure Google won’t venture there officially).

PS: Nowadays is pretty hard to find a good read. So many books, so little gems. Alpha Review = I read the first 50 pages at the book stores and found it interesting, and Google the rest.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Google Labs Aptitude Test (GLAT)

After many years of being a programmer, I am pretty proud of myself thinking I am pretty good. The fact is, there are A LOT OF PEOPLE who are technically more capable than me; though I may not see them or know them, but I know they are out there.

Why do I say so?
  • I am not a genius
  • I don’t do assembly, hack kernels, and come up with the idea of design patterns
  • I don’t do tricks with C code or Pointer
  • I don’t consider myself very creative, since I leverage on others’ teachings most of the time
  • I am not good in solving mathematical quiz and dislike mathematical formula
  • And I am totally lost with GLAT
Google Labs Aptitude Test (GLAT)
GLAT is both a PR stunt as well as out of the norm aptitude test (or so-called technical interview test). It can be intimidating at first, or it could be some fun :)

1) Solve this cryptic equation, realizing of course that values for M and E could be interchanged. No leading zeros are allowed. WWWDOT - GOOGLE = DOTCOM

I could try and brute force it with a program, each alphabet should represent a number

2) Write a haiku describing possible methods for predicting search traffic seasonality.

Google for haiku using define, and come up with a smart-ass “Seventeen-syllable verse form, arranged in three lines of five, seven and five syllables”


1 1
2 1
1 2 1 1
1 1 1 2 2 1
What's the next line?

Possible, but not curious enough to try it for long hours

4) You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike. There is a dusty laptop here with a weak wireless connection. There are dull, lifeless gnomes strolling around. What dost thou do?

A sounds useless, B is funny but ridiculous, C is tempting but not helpful and E is death. So I have to be a smart-ass and choose D) Use the computer to map the nodes of the maze and discover an exit path.

5) What's broken with Unix? How would you fix it?

Hmm, not really a Unix fan, so I won’t go technical. Unix is build for technical people in mind; and don’t bother converting it to be Windows-like.

6) On your first day at Google, you discover that your cubicle mate wrote the textbook you used as a primary resource in your first year of graduate school. Do you:

Would probably try to be a smart-ass again and go for E) Show her how example 17b could have been solved with 34 fewer lines of code. A & B is too wimpy, C doesn’t make sense, and I don’t do D.

7) Which of the following expresses Google's over-arching philosophy?

I think I heard of all of them before, but would probably choose B.

8) How many different ways can you color an icosahedron with one of three colors on each face? What colors would you choose?

Lost hope. Might choose Red for failing this, but would rather choose White because my mind is blank with no formula in sight.

9) This space left intentionally blank. Please fill it with something that improves upon emptiness.

Tempted to write ‘Will Code for Food”, but it’s too desperate. Considering drawing hypnosis spiralling circle with hidden subliminal message in it.

10) On an infinite, two-dimensional, rectangular lattice of 1-ohm resistors, what is the resistance between two nodes that are a knight's move away?

I could try to argue I suffer from Dyslexia or ADHD for mathematical and scientific quiz which might not have a proper medical term yet.

11) It's 2PM on a sunny Sunday afternoon in the Bay Area. You're minutes from the Pacific Ocean, redwood forest hiking trails and world class cultural attractions. What do you do?

I am tempted to go for redwood forest hiking, as it is really awesomely beautiful. Or I could be going SURFING, ha-ha.

12) In your opinion, what is the most beautiful math equation ever derived?

I am wondering is E=MC2 is mathematical formula, or is it physic? To be safe, I would just use Pi or π (22/7).

13) Which of the following is NOT an actual interest group formed by Google employees?

Buffy seems out of the way, but too cool to be written off. Nobel winner?

14) What will be the next great improvement in search technology?

I would want search result at the blink of the thought - mind reading, anywhere, anytime. Before that it might be NLP for the computer to understand human language.

15) What is the optimal size of a project team, above which additional members do not contribute productivity equivalent to the percentage increase in the staff size?

I am guessing the answer have something to do with the book The Mythical Man-Month, but I feel 1 is the most productive (100%) and adding another 1 (100% increase in staff) will cause productivity to fall below 100%. But I doubt one person make a team? Besides, I think 3 is a good number.

16) Given a triangle ABC, how would you use only a compass and straight edge to find a point P such that triangles ABP, ACP and BCP have equal perimeters? (Assume that ABC is constructed so that a solution does exist.)

I am guessing it had something to do with Trigonometry, but I am helpless with math quiz.

17) Consider a function which, for a given whole number n, returns the number of ones required when writing out all numbers between 0 and n. For example, f(13)=6. Notice that f(1)=1. What is the next largest n such that f(n)=n?

I can’t even understand what the question is asking.

18) What is the coolest hack you've ever written?

I actually never tried doing something really cool or creative in terms of programming (some small tricks here and there where necessary), I even avoid unnecessary bitwise operators or recursive function. Recently I did hack CakePHP framework a bit to do something where I failed to find the solution by counless-intensive-repetitive googling. Perhaps we are so used to googling, we seldom use our brains anymore (someone should had figured that out already mentality). Code optimization? Nothing the standard text won't teach. C or Pointer trick? Unecessary most of the time. Architecture? Patterns? Nowadays, it is mostly about resuable code and optimization whenever necessary, and identifying a good framework or library to bank on.

19) 'Tis known in refined company, that choosing K things out of N can be done in ways as many as choosing N minus K from N: I pick K, you the remaining. Find though a cooler bijection, where you show a knack uncanny, of making your choices contain all K of mine. Oh, for pedantry: let K be no more than half N.


20) What number comes next in the sequence: 10, 9, 60, 90, 70, 66, ?

Hmm …

21) In 29 words or fewer, describe what you would strive to accomplish if you worked at Google Labs.

Create cool applications? Too many nifty solutions had come out, such as Google Trends or Transit Planner. Hmm, the Google Blog search could use some improvement, as it is not working very well. As for me, I just want to join the smart guys and learn something.

PS: Possible Anwsers at MathWorld and The Google Story.

Review: Tuesday with Morrie

Morrie is a good light read (and cheap thanks to being a best-seller), with story telling and a bit of life teaching to remind us of the way we lived our life. I usually make notes for more “technical” kind of books, but it’s pointless to do so with “story” book. In the end, I can’t recall what I had read about; I just know that it’s nice.

It is about Morrie, who is dying slowly, and he knows it. So he tries to live his remaining days to the fullest by talking to different people, giving them advice and guidance on everything from love, relationship, money, culture, emotion, etc. The advices are not something new or spectacular, just everyday things where most people know though might have forgotten or did not practice it for various reasons.

At the end, the highlight of the books is still about how he choose to “fight” until the end, make the very best out of his remaining days, and trying to save a few lost souls on earth before meeting his maker. At the end, is not what we earned or made, but what we had given that matter.

PS: Why the title? Because they have their discussion every Tuesday :)

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

All you need is to move Forward

“Don’t look back. Once you had decided, just keep on moving forward.”

In our live, we are faced with all kind of distractions with blurred our vision; things which stop us from doing what we wanted to do; obstacles which deterred us; uncertainty which worries us; doubt which wanted to cast us back; illusion which cloud what is important to us.

Why would I walk into a direction which I don’t feel good about? There is a reason for me to move on from the last stop. It’s a matter of if I could afford to walk there or not, and how much time do I have to complete the track. Once the target is set, it should be warp speed 9 all the way. There shouldn't be regret or doubt, it is just choices we made. No one is going to die or get hurt, it's just a matter of a Maggie Mee or Butter Crab for dinner.

A little adventure in life could go a long way.

Though we spent most of our time working, but there should be more than money to be made.

Monday, August 04, 2008

The Agony of Software Business for Malaysian Market

I had work for 2 software companies before, and even try freelancing for 2 more years, and I would say the future of software business in Malaysia is quite bleak in general, but you could still do it with a few strategies in place. There are a lot of opportunities, but the problem is with the expectation and price (market problem).

I first worked in a R&D company, got some funding and developed a few cool technologies, but just couldn’t sell it. I blame it on the weak sales and marketing team, but even a resourceful man from England also fail to help us. I know of another R&D company now doing almost the same thing, and I seriously have my doubt that will they ever make it as well.

My second company is sort of a software business consulting company, from a large group of companies. She didn’t do very well targeting private corporations, just break even and making losses at later stage. Too many demos and unclosed deal, and non-profitable deals in place due to poor pricing. At the end, they focused on overseas projects and government agencies mostly to keep afloat.

Even during my freelance years, SMB customer are probably willing to pay between RM 2-5K per small projects which aren’t really small, where everyone is a feature creep. RM 10K rarely happens in SMB, unless it is something big or long term. It’s something to do with awareness and “education”. A full-fledged accounting software, or Windows XP/Vista/Office only cost me around RM 1K, how to justify to pay you so much for a simple piece of software which does much less? “But we customized it for it, and you can’t get it out there.” Is it cheaper if I employ someone to build this for me? You charge me RM 8K for a 1 month job, while I can hire someone for 3 months with RM 8K. The price and expectation kill it all. Freelancing for SMB used to be feasible when I was much younger (or for parttime), but I can no longer afford such cheap rates nowadays.

So what is the real problem here? I think there is basically one main issue: Typical Malaysian thinks software development should be cheap and easy, like UBS accounting software. The fact is: it is neither both for most cases. Software development is a complicating process, it is not just about coding. It's understanding the business need better than the owner, control the owner from over-blowing his own budget to build a white elephant, coding with tons of testing (the easy part), tweak it to suite the onwer's personal taste while trying to satisfy the needs of dozen of users, entertain everyone request for changes which leads to more issues, more testing take place, more changes take place again, standy for support, repetitive explanation to everyone as if you are the business onwer who come up with this project, and maintain "professionalism" and deliver high-quality "almost bug-free" software, come up with something not only fully functional but look pretty as well (beauty lies in the eye of beholder), and attend more meetings to brief everyone and understand the business better, and continue to be on standby as well.

So how does other Malaysian software company make it then? Yes, there are ways:
  • You could build generic and cheap software like UBS accounting and trying to sell to 1000 people or more
  • You could target overseas market: though it’s still a 2000 dollar job, SGD 2000 or USD 2000 is much better than RM 2000.
  • You could be the vendors of big IT budget companies, like the Government Agencies, Financial Companies, and Oil & Gas Companies
Basically, work with people who needs you and can afford to pay you well.

The Dark Knight of Humanity

I though it will be of comical villains, or super cool gadget, or stunning action, maybe a bit more CG; at the end, it is all about humanity and emotion attached to it (with all the things I mentioned as well).

I am quite happy with the thought provoking messages they try to bring with the movie, rather than being just another action blockbuster and make us happy for the day.

About humanity: How human try to uphold the morale code, but drop it at the first sign of distress. How we need a hero badly, but we abandoned him at the first sign of trouble, or peace. What are we willing to do to protect ourselves or our love ones, even though it means hurting others? Should we bring justice into our own hands, ending the life of those not worthy of living by our standards. Will you take the life of 1000 prisoners, to save the life of 1000 civilians? It is all morale questions, and it had very much to do with humanity which is not just of black and white in colors.

If you are a superhero: you could crash a few cars, hurt a few criminals, a dozen of break and entry is part of the laws you have to break in order to save lives and apprehend criminals. At any point, why not just kill the criminals on the spot rather than handling them to the police and justice system, and risk having them escape to cause more harm again. Like Judge Dread, “I am the Law”, being a law enforcer, prosecutor, judge and executor all in one. It sounds so logically “correct”, but it had so much emotional impact about this doing. Like Yoda said, “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering”, and ultimately it leads to the dark side. At the end, the righteous knight in shining armour might turn into the criminals he tried to fight his whole life. “You Either Die a Hero, or Live to Become the Villain” – The Dark Knight. And also question of who to save? Your love ones or someone who is important to the society?

Spoiler Warning: I am impressed with the scene where there are 2 ferries, one with civilians and the other with criminals. Joker put explosives on both ferry, and he put the detonator (the trigger to activate the bomb) of the opposite ferry in each ferry. The ferry which detonates the other ferry gets to live. If one of them didn’t blow up the opposite ferry, all of them will die by midnight. I though the criminals will try to get hold of the detonator without hesitation, but a big guy stand up to the captain (the one holding the detonator) and say, “I know you are not used to killing people, I can help you, you don’t have to do it.” The captain passes him the detonator and the criminal said, “I am doing what you should have done 10 minutes ago” and throw the detonator out the window. Why would he do it? My conclusion, a punished criminal (assuming he is remorseful) would have thought many times before that it is painful to had done wrong, and he is very sure he will not repeat the same mistake again. A panicky civilian on the other ship stand up and say, “I’ll do it. If nobody want to do it, I’ll do it” and walks to pick up the detonator. I am very sure he will do it, until I saw a glimpse on his face? Why not? I suddenly realise it is extremely painful to take the life of a thousand to save our own, or even to save another thousand “more worthy” soul. I can’t bear with the guilt and tortorung, and probably dying would be more peaceful.

It's a very good movie in his own class, and badly needed in the time where humanity is thinning with all the senseless bombing and shooting of people. Humanity would probably kill itself before nature does.

PS: The Batman's voice is really irritating and unnecessary.