Tech for ‘Normals’​

Privacy in and of itself is not “fun.” It’s like a bran muffin: good for you, but not particularly exciting.

Crypto cupcakes sold for $4 each

I once had a friendly debate with a colleague of mine at AWS about what mattered to customers. I headed up marketing for the Startups group and saw, for early-stage startups, our most interesting storyline being the many programs and services we offered that got early-stage prototypes set up quickly and cheaply, and that connected them to funding and growth. My colleague thought I should lead with product features.

He wasn’t wrong. Technical founders do want to know about distinct product attributes. But as a founder myself I wanted to know the service had been trusted by many other startups from inception and had scaled with them through to IPO. After that, sure, we can talk about how.

Fact is, many product marketers fall in love with features, not the solutions to problems they are solving. Often being the less-technical one in the room, I can attest for those of us with Liberal Arts-versus CS degrees-and just say it out loud: Features are not that exciting.

I also felt this way, when I joined my current company last summer. Our technical founders shared that a key mission of the company was to make the Internet fun again, which my Carnivalesque brain immediately responded to with excitement. I envisioned building Privacy Labs that served funnel cake, hosting privacy parties with an encrypted-formula signature drink, and building VR gaming apps that simulated a ferris wheel. I laughed out loud registering on our site and seeing a poof of digital confetti confirming my transaction. Proof of Fun (PoF).

But digging into the attributes of our Open Protocol-Open-Source, end-to-end encrypted, polymorphic, and hyperconnected-I failed to see the fun. Teasing things out a bit more, it was the resulting experiences that we all agreed were fun: no more passwords or annoying Captchas, privacy you didn’t have to think about because all data was controlled by the user, the ability to load your data in an app and have that same data magically populate in other apps that required that same data.

Now this, for someone like me who spent an inordinate amount of time inputting credit card information and user preferences into apps and who had failed many of the authentication challenges designed to prove I was human, was fun. And the real-world living that I could now enjoy untethered to setting up user accounts on my mobile device…Yippee!

Still, we agreed, Privacy in and of itself was not fun. It was, as Internet Policy Expert Jennifer King said on our video program @talks, “like a bran muffin”: good for you, but not particularly exciting.

And herein lies the key societal issue as it relates to changing consumer behavior: We consumers know we SHOULD like bran muffins, but that doesn’t mean we collectively vow to ingest them religiously. We may know that we don’t want companies surveilling us by tracking our user data, but if that surveillance is tied to convenience, information, entertainment, and, well, fun, we may get angry for five minutes and vow to quit Facebook/Twitter/Amazon/Google, but then we’ll realize how invested we are behaviorally, emotionally, functionally, masochistically, sociologically to Big Tech. And we’ll agree to stay tethered to those experiences.

Maybe 5% of us have the discipline and wherewithal to disrupt our daily conveniences in order to actually change our behaviors. Very few of us come to a place in our lives where circumstances usher in the conviction required to invoke real change.

I was awestruck and inspired by VC Mark Suster’s detailed and candid series about his recent, sustained weight loss. In it, he shares the tools, techniques, triggers, and transformations that needed to occur to meet and exceed his target weight loss. It seemed the faint tail wind that helped to precipitate change for him was the Pandemic, which forced him to be more aware of his personal habits and able to build a scaffolding around his new habits.

I was also exhausted reading the series and had to ingest it in parts: Gosh, I thought, this transformation required commitment, discipline, self-therapy, and fueling of a personal pilot light that many of us have simply forgotten about amidst other seemingly more fun, interesting, or important pursuits.

And so how, then, do we make disruptive tech more like a frosted cupcake? One that’s irresistible to try, and once tasted, is worth licking the plate clean?

I’ve become obsessed with this question. And I’ve boiled it down to these principles:

Man runs through cheering audience to front seats and jumps excitedly
Man runs through cheering audience to front seats and jumps excitedly

1. Find your Crazies and put them to work.

In my personal lexicon, “Crazies” are good and necessary. They are fans, partners, and critics who illogically support your project. I first coined the term when I co-founded a platform for digital influencers and noticed, about a year in, a group of delightful acolytes who were so convinced that our service needed to be in the world that they donated their time and expertise, gratis, to help us launch a prototype. Fortunately, they were rewarded when we closed a round of funding, but they didn’t know that we would for certain. They took a leap of faith in us because regardless of success they felt that our project needed to be in the world. Even when others thought that three chicks seeking to disrupt digital media was a bit rich, fewer could deny fifty chicks, and fewer 150 chicks, and fewer 1,000 chicks and allies…

2. Close the gap of inconvenience.

So, now that we’ve got your attention, we must do everything in our power not to lose it, meaning that goodwill starts to erode if you don’t reward it by enabling your Champions to look good. Bad product and bad Champion experience make Champions look bad. It is your singular imperative, before going broad, to ensure your Champions look good. Arm them with samples, demos that work, and messaging they can use to tell your story well. Treat them like you would investors, because they are. (Above: A live demonstration of shitty user experience).

3. Secure strategic alliances.

(Cue the Pet Shop Boys: “I’ve got the brains…you’ve got the looks…Let’s make lots of money…”)

But seriously, ask yourself, who has “brawn,” in the way of influence, market share, or mass customer base, and how can you help them? This can seem like a ridiculous exercise when you are still largely unknown and misunderstood, but it’s not. When I was growing my startup, we had an expertise and direct line with consumer influencers that many of the largest consumer brands did not. They were willing to partner to leverage that ability and scale it. What expertise, algorithm, puzzle piece do you have that can help a Goliath company? And how can Goliath help build not just revenue, but adoption? I would argue, at the outset, adoption is more important.

Bonus, strangely prophetic video: The Pet Shop Boys, performing their iconic song, “Opportunities,” from within a plastic bubble.

4. Be relentless, or convince Elon Musk to Tweet about your product, whichever one works first.

I refer to a point I made in this recent interview I did with Felicia Sullivan, an early alliance partner, who is now inspiring brands and people on Medium: The 40M mass migration of consumers from WhatsApp to the surveillance-free chat app Signal, despite the seeming suddenness of it that occurred after Elon Musk tweeted about it in January, was not about a single tweet. The company has been slugging it out for nearly seven years. Tipping points need kindling, have fits and starts, and require groundwork well-ahead of their seeming moment of serendipity.

Witness the irrational exuberance these days over Non-Fungible Tokens, or NFTs, as you’ve seen them all over your newsfeed of late. How did this miraculous new use case for blockchain emanate into the public consciousness? Hardly in a volcanic manner, I assure you, as I recall being excited about one of the earliest NFTs, CryptoKitties, three years ago. But once the crypto market went cold in late 2018, so did many of its inventions.

What shook blockchain out of it? Persistence, focus, and greater self awareness. Blockchain wasn’t (and still arguably isn’t) human-friendly, but builders are trying. Instead of keeping it largely a pedantic engineering exercise, developers are building definitionally flawed use cases that are much easier for consumers at large to digest.

“I think it took Dapper Labs’ relentless focus on making the experience painfully easy for the normals and taking all the ‘crypto’ out of it.”

When I asked David Pakman, investor at Venrock, why after years of seminal breakthroughs such as CryptoKitties, is blockchain game developer Dapper Labs finally seeing commercial success with NBA Top Shot, he said:

Note Pakman’s term for consumers: “Normals”. It’s this change in perception of the consumer from unenlightened cro-magnon to technical validator that heralded Dapper’s success. That and the “painfully easy” UX. Sure there are flaws with the business model behind these more consumer-facing NFTs, but at least blockchain now has our collective attention. Bitcoin hitting $60k also didn’t hurt…

Things that make me think, maybe it’s not too late to disrupt Big Tech:

“Starting a business on YouTube is like opening a brand new store in a shopping centre, except you might come in to open your shop one day, and the shopping centre has just moved you to the other end where there are no customers, there’s no foot traffic. And you’ll never know why.”

Dave Wiskus, Founder of Nebula, explaining why he built a rival video platform to YouTube.

“You know, Thoreau, his big thing wasn’t about being alone. His big thing was: I want to live deliberately. I think we have an opportunity with technology to live deliberately.”

MIT Professor and Social Scientist Sherry Turkle, on finding an optimal way of being in our Internet adolescence.

The IPO the Community Built — Roblox

Nope, still not profitable, but proof that a shared community platform that enables builders to monetize can go big. (Now please don’t get acquired by Amazon).

A great write-up on the evolution of the Metaverse. Thanks, Buzz Bruggeman, for sending.

Written by The @ Company CMO Jory Des Jardins. Originally published at

Now for some Internet Optimism