Category / What’s next?

The assistant app is the futureIn the new film Ex Machina, a reclusive billionaire invents a robotic artificial intelligence. To test whether his invention is indistinguishable from a human being, he helicopters-in a young engineer to see if he falls in love with the robot.

Today, making machines and humans indistinguishable from each other is no longer science fiction, it’s good business. In fact, a wave of startups are part of a new trend that promises to radically simplify our lives by making it harder to determine whether we’re communicating with a person or computer code.

In my last post I discussed how I use some of these services and in this post, I’ll go deeper into what this trend is all about. I’ll look into how pairing new technologies with human assistants will result in tremendous new products, which promise to enhance our lives — that is, until the robots completely take over and destroy us all. *insert nervous laugh here.*

Whenever I feel uncomfortable writing about a topic, that’s when I know I should write about it. So here goes. This article is about how a new way of designing apps changed my life. But to explain the power of this trend, I need to tell you about poop. That’s the uncomfortable part.

For the past five years or so, I’ve struggled with intestinal discomfort. (I’ll spare you the gory details.) I spent countless hours crawling the web searching for a possible diagnosis and tried dozens of different remedies and diets. Nothing seemed to help.

Finally, I saw a gastroenterologist. He listened for all of five minutes while I described my symptoms and quickly jotted down a prescription for antibiotics. They worked for a while but soon the symptoms returned. I went back to the doc. A few tests were done and more antibiotics were dolled out. But the problems came back. Then again. And again.

HemingwriteFour minutes into pitching the wonders of his invention to an influential reporter, Patrick Paul gets hit with the kind of snarky comment startup entrepreneurs dread.

Paul is the founder of Hemingwrite, a “distraction free writing tool with modern technology like a mechanical keyboard, e-paper screen and cloud backups.”

At first glance, the Hemingwrite could be mistaken for an old-school typewriter inlaid with a Kindle display. Despite its “modern technology,” it looks like a 1980s throwback from Radio Shack. Two gaudy dials sit on either side of chunky black plastic and a huge red button — which could easily be mistaken for an ignition switch — turns it on.

The company website calls this esthetic “retro.”

Despite its looks, the Hemingwrite has struck a nerve.

The company quickly surpassed its $250,000 crowdfunding goal on Kickstarter and sold hundreds of units of a machine that hasn’t even been manufactured yet.

Raising Money: 100 dollar billNir’s Note: This guest post is written by Michael Simpson. Michael is the co-author of The Secret of Raising Money, which he wrote with Seth Goldstein.

Raising money for a startup is like sex. The more unattainable you seem, the better your chances of getting lucky. Also, the more interest you receive from others, the more appealing you will become to everyone else.

This essay discusses two psychological principles at work in an entrepreneur’s fundraising efforts: social proof and scarcity. Nir has discussed both in previous blog posts regarding product design. In this article, I’ll take you through the mechanics of each, and show you how entrepreneurs use these tools to close their rounds.


“If you’re walking down the street and everyone is looking up at the sky, you look up at the sky.” -Babak Nivi, AngelList

Devil investors are not angel investors

This article originally appeared in the Harvard Business Review

A friend called me heartbroken, crying. She had spent months looking for investors to fund her fledgling startup and now she had a big problem. Someone was ready to give her the money.

Trouble was, the cash came with a catch. The only investor willing to pony-up the money was someone she didn’t like. She also got the feeling he did not like her much either, and yet, he wanted to invest. “If he was involved, I have the feeling I would quit my company down the road,” she told me over the phone.

Time was running out, she needed the funds and with no other investor ready to commit, she feared she’d have to take the money from someone she couldn’t stand. The very thought made her sick in the stomach.

Writing is what's Nir been up toRecently, I was asked by a friend why there have been so many guest posts on the blog lately. “What’s Nir been up to?” he asked. “Why aren’t you writing anymore?” The answer is, I am writing.

I’m working on two books at the moment. The first is a brief overview of my Hook Model, targeted at product managers, designers, and start-up folks. This e-book will be emailed to all blog subscribers by the end of the year.

The second book — still in early stages — is also about habit-forming technology, but is written in a narrative-style and targeted at a broader audience.

So while I’m feverishly plugging away at these two book projects, I will publish occasional blog posts of my own in addition to featuring select guest posts related to business, behavior and the brain. Feel free to suggest your own ideas for a guest post.

Nir’s Note: In this guest post, user experience designer Aaron Wilson, discusses a deep flaw of our digital devices and makes an audacious prediction about the future of consumer technology. Follow Aaron on Twitter @aarowilso.

The future of consumer technology is shareable devicesNo one wants to make a mistake like the one Clifford Stoll made in 1996. In the February issue of Newsweek Magazine, his now infamous article carried the headline, “The Internet? Bah!

An “online database,” Stoll wrote, will never replace your daily newspaper. To futurists like Nicholas Negroponte who predicted that one day we’d buy books and newspapers “straight over the Internet,” Stoll responded flippantly, “Uh, sure.”

Clifford Stoll is not a stupid man. He has a Ph.D. in astronomy, was a system administrator at Berkeley Lab, and is considered by some to be the father of digital forensics.

Nir’s Note: This guest post is by Max Ogles, a writer and entrepreneur based in Utah. Connect with him on Twitter at @maxogles.

Spotlight Effect

In the beginning of 2010, when daily deals site Groupon was really hitting its stride and copycat businesses were popping up left and right, a small startup called Yipit was just getting off the ground. Yipit was involved in daily deals, too, but rather than creating the deals itself, Yipit simply aggregated the deals offered by the other companies to offer a nice tidy list in a daily email.

Like any startup, the Yipit team planned PR and marketing around their launch and hoped that the buzz would yield a nice base of users, who in turn would share with friends and create steady word-of-mouth growth. They managed to secure the spotlight from a major tech publication and then rode the wave. “After months of toiling away in obscurity, you feel like you’ve finally made it,” wrote Vinicius Vacanti, Yipit’s CEO, on his blog. “People know what you’re working on now. People all over the world are now using your product.”

Curse of Marketplace BusinessesEthan Stock lived the Silicon Valley dream. He had recently sold his company to eBay and emanated the tanned skin and relaxed composure you’d expect of someone who just cashed a big corporate check. But as we sat across from one another in a Palo Alto coffee shop, I was surprised by what he said next. “Mediocrity is worse than failure, you know?” For seven years before the acquisition, Stock served as the founding CEO of Zvents, an online guide for local events. Though he was successful by anyone’s standards, I could tell he was a guy who, like me, had learned some hard lessons about marketplace businesses.

Nir’s Note: In this guest post, Ryan Hoover takes a look at how new behaviors are shaping tech opportunities. Ryan blogs at and you can follow him on Twitter at rrhoover.

Nascent behaviors and business opportunities

Startups that build a product attached to nascent behaviors have an opportunity to form habits before anyone else. First mover advantage matters. Once a habit is formed, it’s difficult to change and often provides a sustained competitive advantage.

In order to mine for yet untapped opportunities, I began to observe my own behaviors and those of people around me:

How is my daily routine different than last year?

What new behaviors have I seen amongst my social circles (online and off)?

How are “normals” engaging with technology in new ways?

Here are some of the nascent behaviors I’ve observed: