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Erik Trautman

Technical entrepreneurship, business strategy and product development

Ux toll road wm

UX Equilibrium

Everyone can agree that blockchain has a UX problem. The top apps right now have literally dozens of users. And no small effort has been undertaken to try and fix all the leaks in the onboarding funnel. But what if this effort is just mopping the decks of the Titanic on most of these systems… totally meaningless in the context of a looming disaster?

How do we begin to untangle which systems will stick around for the long haul and which are doomed to be disrupted from the start?

UX Equilibrium

In crypto economic and consensus discussions, we spend a lot of time cozying up to the work of mathematician John Nash, whose famous Nash Equilibriumis generally considered to be the ideal state for a game theoretic system to achieve.

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Why I'm Interested in Blockchain

It started as a weekend project. A VC friend had put me in touch with one of his portfolio founders with a “you two should connect, I think you’ll really get along.” Suddenly I’m back in middle school and my mom is setting me up on play dates.

Wanting to have a better understanding of what they were working on, I took a look through their website and rolled my eyes when the word “Blockchain” came up. Not another one.

I was several months past the acquisition of my previous company and, during the scale-out phase, had gotten deep into artificial intelligence research. At the time, I was closing in on some interesting opportunities in the space and had a lot of momentum going. The tech is interesting, the problems are big and the space is highly active. I didn’t see any reason why I wouldn’t continue down that path.

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A Practical Framework for Identifying Opportunities in Artificial Intelligence

Despite being years deep into the new Age of AI, there is still surprisingly little clarity around how to systematically approach and model the space in order to find opportunities for investing and building new businesses.

My intention here is to create a simple top-down process for identifying opportunities by analyzing the core components that are critical in any viable AI-driven product or business.

As an entrepreneur, these are the questions I ask myself when deciding which areas look most fertile to pursue. As a VC, you might use this to find green fields for investment or as a tool to evaluate businesses that cross your radar. As a researcher, this may provide new areas to explore and as an industry expert this should help you think about triangulating in on a good opportunity within your domain space.

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What it Means to be AI-Driven

AI Assisted, Enabled or Driven stick figures by Erik Trautman

The conversation about Artificial Intelligence has become so muddy lately that it is important to be very clear about what we mean when we say an organization is "using AI" or is "AI driven". This post will clear up those definitions and some of the implications of each classification.

There are three levels at which an organization can adopt artificial intelligence:

  1. AI-Assisted: AI is a technical bolt-on to existing processes, usually through the use of AI-created tools, for example AI assisted sales or team management tools.
  2. AI-Enabled / AI-Augmented: AI is applied to existing processes or product data to make the product or service better or more useful, for example the recommendation engines behind Netflix, Spotify, Amazon, etc. This is often in the form of one or more AI-driven features or products.
  3. AI-Driven: AI is literally the lifesblood of the company or initiative, for example self-driving technologies and the companies providing tools to AI-Assisted companies. This is truly an AI-Driven company.

Each of these cases has different implications from the perspective of the implementing organization.

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How Artificial Intelligence is Closing the Loop with Better Predictions

Much of the hype around Artificial Intelligence centers on some vague sense that it continuously learns from the world around it so it gets ever-better at performing tasks. In reality, it's important to understand that the core truth underlying this is much simpler and more powerful: AI technologies allow us to make better predictions than we could before.

Despite the simplicity of that fact, it is an enormously powerful building block which enables automation on a scale we've never seen before by disrupting task loops across the information and physical worlds. Understanding it will allow you to better appreciate the kinds of change it can and will drive.

The semiconductor represents a useful analogy for this reduction. Semiconductor technology obviously changed the world but these empires were built on top of a single simple truth: it reduced the cost of arithmetic. That most fundamental use case forms the basis of computing and, at sufficient scale, allows us to do everything we can today.

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The Virtuous Cycle of AI Products

The Virtuous Cycle of AI Products, also called the "AI Flywheel Effect," is one of the most exciting ideas in Artificial Intelligence and it's also incredibly simple. Essentially, when AI technologies are integrated with a product properly, they create a feedback loop where the product continuously improves with use, generating more usage and a better competitive position relative to other products.

It looks like this:

  1. Product gets used, generating data
  2. Data from usage is fed into machine learning (or similar) models
  3. Models improve the product, generating more usage

Context

Any product tends to improve with usage regardless of its underlying technology because a good team will use qualitative feedback and analytics data to bring it closer in line with user needs. This improvement, though, tends to reach an asymptote where additional usage and data no longer provide much marginal insight to the product.

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How to Fix and Avoid Burnout

Burnout sucks. I'm not talking about that "I can't wait for the weekend" feeling or even the glazed-eye look you gave your parents when returning home from finals week during college. When I refer to burnout, I mean the structural depletion of energy which makes it nearly impossible to raise your head and get real work done. It's a poison that seeps into and sucks the life out of every working minute.

In startup culture, we glorify working ourselves to death in a way which is completely absurd and totally self-imposed. Along my own 5 year rollercoaster building Viking Education, I became intimately familiar with the feeling of burnout. I distinctly remember the numb progression through checklists of tasks that had become divorced of any meaning and putting on a smiling facade which overlaid an inner me who had long since stopped bothering to panic at his lack of excitement for work.

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When you trust memes

The Entropy of Trust

I'm always amazed that people seem shocked when something they've trusted is usurped for commercial gain. Somehow, in a world that's incredibly dynamic and built on Darwinian evolutions at all levels from single cell organisms up to commercial entities, we still hold onto this naive view that our trust in systems is somehow static.

This is probably because we build our relationship with trust based on our relationships with close friends and family. In most (healthy) cases, this one-to-one trust grows slowly or remains constant over time. A fairly static model for trust is reasonable in this microscopic system.

Unfortunately, we tend to implicitly model the trust we place in third parties and macroscopic communities along similar lines and that simply doesn't reflect reality.

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Pexels photo 434348

Grit is a Muscle. Train it.

"Inch towards daylight" is one of my favorite mantras from a book I read recently. It also accurately describes how to develop the oft-discussed but seldom mastered skill of Grit.

Grit is generally defined as perseverance in the face of obstacles and/or lack of positive reinforcement. It's the ability to do hard things regardless of whether the environment is supportive, and it's the ability to maintain determination and motivation for long term goals through all the shit work between now and then.

Grit is often and inaccurately presented as an innate characteristic. That gives those who lack it far too convenient an excuse to stop trying or to justify their deficits. In reality, Grit is a muscle that needs to be trained.

In 2017, I ran an Ironman triathlon and sold a challenging service business that I'd bootstrapped through 4 arduous years. I live with a group of highly motivated high achievers who span the world of entrepreneurial and life success -- the collection of their acquisitions, press articles, TED talks and general awesomeness gives me constant awe -- yet they constantly express amazement at the kind of will I'm able to deploy to the fulfillment of a particular goal. Why?

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