Archive: April 25, 2016

Pad Thai, for real. Like you’re in Thailand

I love Thai food. It’s one of my favorite cuisines. It’s just so quick, accessible and delicious.

up until not so long ago I wasn’t really aware of the importance of technique (especially being meticulous about timing and order). Well, it makes a HUGE difference.

Here’s something I picked up while watching several online Thai cooking techniques, and proclaimed as my own, all because of a little twist ūüôā

That’s how you’ll make Pad Thai that tastes like Thailand (or the wonderful Thai food scene in NYC):

 

  • Preparation time: 15-20m
  • On the fire: 5-7m
  • Serves: 2-3 people

Ok. First, you’re gonna need a wok. If you don’t have one go buy one and get back here. Mine was actually bought in Thailand and it’s made out of tin (I think) that is very light and thin.

Ingredients:

For the concentrate / sauce:

  • Tamarind
  • Lime juice
  • Sriracha
  • Palm sugar / regular sugar / date honey

And.. My secret ingredient… Peanut butter!

For the dish:

  • Tofu
  • 1 Garlic clove
  • 1/2 Shallot
  • 100gr. Shrimp
  • 150gr. Diced Chicken
  • 1 Egg
  • 1/2 pack of Sticky rice noodles
  • Bean sprouts
  • 1 Spring onion
  • Crushed peanuts
  • Chili flakes
  • Lime

The magic happens really fast so it requires alertness, but first we need some prepping:

  1. First, soak the rice noodles in tepid water for 2 hours, so they soften.
  2. Then, prepare the sauce in a bowl or anything you feel comfortable whisking in: mix the 4 ingredients in the following proportions: 3 tablespoons of tamarind, 6 tablespoons of sugar (or equivalent. I prefer date honey), 2 tablespoons of lime juice and a few squirts of Sriracha. Then add 1 tablespoon of peanut butter. Taste it. If one flavor is too dominant, try balancing with the missing tastes. The only somewhat dominant ingredient should be sugar, and you’re good.
  3. Give it a good whisk.

On to the dish:

  1. A generous portion of oil (not olive oil!!!) to the wok. Fire to max.
  2. let it warm up, then throw in the tofu. Just a few blocks, nothing too dramatic. Unless you’re a vegetarian/vegan in which case try to improvise.
  3. after a minute, add in the finely chopped garlic and shallots (sliced thin vertically, not chopped). Stir and stir some more for about 30 seconds, Then add the protein (chicken and shrimp) and stir until it’s nicely seared (but not cooked through). Push it all aside and drop the egg in the empty space. Let it fry for ~10 secs and then start breaking it (like you’re making scrambled eggs). Then mix it with the rest.
  4. Now, add the noodles. Stir a lot! At least 1 minute. Then add the sauce and stir until the entire mix absorbs the color and there’s no visible liquid at the bottom. Add the crushed peanuts, roughly chopped spring onion and a skimpy handful of bean sprouts. Also, add the Chili flakes (to taste. It really affects spiciness). It’s usually not more than a pinch.
  5. Stir like there’s no tomorrow. After about 2 minutes, it’s done!
  6. Empty the wok into a large plate, and add: 1/4 lime (don’t squeeze, let them do it if they wish to), some leftover spring onion, bean sprouts and chili flakes in the 4 corners of the plate respectively. Spread some more crushed peanuts generously.

And… Voila! Let me know how it was!

Seeking glory? Minimax is your least favorable option. Ask Luis Enrique.

Minimax (loosely defined) is a strategy in game theory, representing the choice of cautious moves that allegedly have greater chances to reach the minimal criteria of victory in a situation where your options are win/lose. It’s actually choosing the minimum, in a maximum (win) situation, i.e. minimal victory.

I want to demonstrate why I think choosing minimax may mitigate some risks, but needs to be carefully chosen, and more importantly, one needs to realize it almost completely denies his chances of glory, for those interested. 

Full disclosure first, I’m a die-hard Barcelona fan since childhood, let’s hope it doesn’t compromise my judgement (too much…).

Intro

Last night, Luis Enrique (Barcelona’s coach for those who haven’t been living on earth since 2014), decided to choose the minimax strategy against Atletico Madrid in a 2nd leg of the champions league quarter final, after having won 2-1 in the previous game at home. Basically all he needed was a draw, any draw. And since the Champions league is a knockout-based cup, there is no draw. Ultimately, one team HAS to prevail. i.e. win/lose.

For those of you who don’t know how the system works, you may close your browser tab now, as I won’t be explaining what away goals mean ūüôā

How did “Lucho” (Luis Enrique) play minimax?

Easy. He instructed his players to maintain control of the ball as much as they can (nothing new here to fans), only this time, not for the purpose of scoring a goal, rather than just keeping the ball by passing it from side to side, mainly behind the half-way line therefore denying Atletico the chance of goal scoring opportunity (under the somewhat controversial notion: if you don’t have the ball, you can’t score).¬†

Also, he instructed his players to narrow the gaps, and the offense to help on defense (when was the last time you saw Messi chasing somebody tenaciously all the way to his own box, only to just barely steal it and not even gaining control over it?). 

Why was the strategy minimax?

Because Lucho reckoned that since he did have the (slightest) advantage thanks to the 2-1 win the week before, and due to Atleti’s defensive reputation (which is a very shallow observation), playing a “mid court” game will kill their enthusiasm, silence the fans, help Barca defend efficiently and therefore not concede the dreaded goal that would disqualify them. And, as a bonus, once Atleti goes all-in, he has the best tools in the world for a lethal counter attack to seal the deal.

So what went wrong?

He made 2 fundamental mistakes:

  1. Assuming an excessive possession game with no goal-bound inclination can do the job: the core of Barca’s DNA is indeed possession game, but never for the sake of possession or time wasting (except for specific tactics in the final stages of important games). The possession game has to serve the goal scoring process. That’s what it’s there for. It’s meant to find that precise moment of defensive vulnerability, where you can strike quickly and most effectively. In fact, this strategy is so well-embedded in Barca players, sometimes they don’t even need the brilliance of Messi or Iniesta to score or make an incisive through pass. It has to be said, of course, once the opponent is well trained, it does require moments of genius. By neutralizing the end-game of the ball possession strategy, Lucho immediately called for misfortune and confusion to happen, especially with a team coached by Diego “El grande jefe” Simeone, that thrives on fear (on the other side).
  2. He didn’t fathom or couldn’t cope with the fact that his 3 aces (Messi, Neymar and Suarez) are out of shape/form for whatever reason, therefore he couldn’t rely on them to shine on the counter as much as he did in the past year. With roughly 1/3 battery power on the attack and a confused midfield, you’re in fact miscalculating your odds.

What should he have done differently?

Yes, I know decisiveness in retrospect is the easiest. However, I’m not claiming my solution would have surely brought it home, it could probably just increase the odds.

Traditionally, Barca is an all-or-none team. It crashes and burns the same way it emerges victorious: gloriously. Barca doesn’t know how to deploy minimax because it’s not in the club’s and players’ DNA, the same way it can’t execute an ultra defensive (i.e bunker) strategy, like Mourinho’s Inter Milan in the ¬†2010 semis. This is empirically proven. It’s the blessing and the curse of that club, and a part of its unique magic. Lucho should have trusted his players to try and play the same way they’re used to: possess and progress. That was their only chance. It was never a done deal at the Calderon with such a fragile advantage, but it’s what brought them to this place, specifically and in general.

I’d be a fool to finish this post without expressing my awe, respect and admiration for Diego Simeone. If there’s any proof that a soccer/European football coach can make a huge difference, it’s him. Took a mediocre+ team to great success, and with admirable continuity. In my book, he’s a hero, and he deserves to finally win the European title. Chapeau, Diego.

F U, Minimax!

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I don’t like minimax. Best case scenario you win small, but you’ll never know what it feels like to REALLY win. Acting as if you have nothing to lose (not extremely so, but mainly not being dominated by the fear of failure) could be surprisingly rewarding, and if you haven’t yet tried it, I think you should. You too, Lucho.

Your new startup idea is probably lacking the right starting point

If I had a dime for every startup idea I’ve heard, I’d probably have at least $100. Not too Shabby, can buy myself a nice steak dinner at Peter Luger’s plus change!

There may be one thing though, that connects most of those ideas: they fail to understand the most fundamental (and probably most important) building block in a successful startup. Let me explain:

  • The default, almost intuitive predisposition when coming up with startup ideas, comes from a fault, a need or a problem you’re aware of or have encountered.
    Let’s say you’re waiting in an endless line to get serviced. you’re thinking: OMG, there has to be an app that monitors the lines and alerts when lines are shorter (and also predicts and such and such). So you see a “need” and you immediately start designing the app in your mind: how it will look like, what it would save you, and so on. BUT, you don’t even stop and think: who is going to pay for my app? the consumers? hmm… getting consumers to provide credit card details (or equivalent) is very tricky and normally¬†entails micro-payments. so, maybe businesses? but what would their incentive be? how difficult would it be to penetrate? enterprise sales could be too long and resource consuming.
  • Another common disposition is being exposed to a very cool technology, or realizing that you might have a good technological solution to a problem/issue currently being neglected due to utilizing inferior default technologies. For example, you see that traffic lights are problematic and might create unnecessary congestions, so you come up with your own crazy ideas as to how you can improve and optimize it, based on some awesome video analysis + big data. Again, great, but how do you monetize?

I had a very cool idea once to create predictive driving times, i.e. to be able to know when I should leave the place I’ll be in, so I could reach the place I wanted to drive to on time. An example: let’s say it’s 9am and I’m at home. I need to be somewhere within 30 minutes driving distance at 4pm. If I wait till 3:30pm, I might discover that there’s heavy traffic (that could have been theoretically anticipated) and I should have planned ahead better. sometimes experience dictates those decisions, and sometimes I need a broader source to help me. I had potential access to a huge database of traffic statistics and road maps, and also a professor who’s expertise is in transportation optimization. Alas, ¬†I also had 2 “minor” problems:

  1. It would take a long time to write & calibrate the algorithms, plus, optimize driving times, and there are companies FAR GREATER than my potential startup, who already own and analyze this data: Google, Waze (which was an independent company back then), and surprisingly, many more
  2. What’s even worse: how could I make anybody pay for this important yet very basic piece of information?

Guess what, 4 years later Google implemented that quite easily and it is now a tiny, yet very cool part of their travel planner on Google maps. They’re not even monetizing on it directly, rather than adding a seemingly negligible feature that makes Google maps richer.

Even tho sometimes very successful startups have started off with one of those dispositions, the crowded tech world we live in dictates that we, as entrepreneurs, should strive to increase our odds of being funded and eventually, being successful (i.e. making tons of $$$).

 

I reckon that the first thing you need to do, before putting a down payment on your future yacht, is to imagine a viable business model and a go-to-market strategy.

If you can imagine the personas / entities to which you can sell your product, the ways you can sell it and the ballpark costs they would agree to pay (again, all very roughly of course), then you have an excellent starting point, and from there on, you can move forward to tackle the rest of the challenges.

So, after taking part in several ventures and presenting to tons of investors (I’m embarrassed to say how many as it might pull the rug under this post’s credibility, so let’s just say A LOT), here is my ranking of what you need to consider when actually pursuing a new venture, and spending your time, money and hopes on it:

  1. Biz model / GTM – Never say “that’s ok we have a very cool product/idea, the customers will come or we’ll figure it out later”. The first thing you need to know is who your customer is, why he should buy your product, and for how much. of course, you also need to estimate the market size (tip: never think your market size is 100’s of Billions) and would help if you had an idea of how you could reach out and make them buy whatever it is you’re selling. Selling to consumers or businesses is a critical junction for your enterprise, and you need to make sure that your customer will actually be willing to pay for what you’re offering. having said that, be aware that arbitrary / unpredictable use of your solution is also a party pooper, that’s why investors love subscribable (apparently it’s not a word..) and/or addictive offerings.
  2. Black-box technology¬†– almost as important. Investors want to know your offering is very hard to reverse-engineer or replicate. Often times when you’re small, large companies are able to quickly implement your product (sometimes faster than you…) and sell them to the critical mass, thus canceling any selling point you have. Having a solid technology will not only help you retain your relative advantage, but would also make you much more appealing for acquisitions.
  3. An actual pain¬†– If there are people to whom you can sell, it probably means that there’s a pain, but not always. proving that there’s a real pain (and the more painful it is = the likelihood to succeed is higher) is crucial because it mitigates the risk of selling solely on merit.
  4. A (cool) viable solution/product – Yes. it needs to be cool, no matter what people tell you. Visuals and aesthetics are proven likability enhancers. But, more importantly, your product (based on your tech, of course) needs to show that it can actually meet the need or solve the problem.

There’s one “floating” category: the team. all investors say “We invest in impressive entrepreneurs” and such. it’s true, but to me, it has to go without saying. If you’re not talented or interesting, you have nothing to look for in entrepreneurship. The team is the most un-quantifiable metric there is, because it’s so subjective and basic, it’s on the verge of being a cliche (excluding outliars of course, e.g. serial exit-makers, or vice versa, complete idiots).

In conclusion, always start by imagining HOW, TO WHOM, AND FOR HOW MUCH you sell your product/service. if you can imagine this, you have a promising starting point.