Will A Robot Replace You?

It was father’s day yesterday. I sat down with my father and spoke for a few hours on various subjects. We briefly discussed a topic that reminded me of something I learnt way back in college. It’s a concept from physics. I was actually quite awful at physics so I apologize in advance if my interpretation is incorrect. But here it goes anyway.

In physics, “work” happens when a force is applied to an object such that it moves from A to B. If you exert the force, but the object doesn’t move, the work done is zero.

In regular life, we don’t think of work the same way. But I think we should. If our actions aren’t bringing about a change or a result, I’d like to think that the work done is zero. It doesn’t matter how hard you try, or how many hours you put in, because as long as you couldn’t move the needle, the work comes down to zero.

I feel that in normal life work should be measured as Force x Displacement and we should move away from our current definition of work as only force. In addition, we should make our best effort in order to have maximum displacement for the force we put in. If employee A works longer hours than employee B, but delivers the same value in the end, it may seem that A worked more, but in my opinion, they worked just as much as they pushed the object just as much. Here’s an interesting case-study.

Savannah Sanchez, a Facebook marketer, did an interesting video that I don’t completely agree with, but I find it interesting to share here today. Her thesis is that Facebook’s AI has gotten so advanced, that a human marketer working over 10 hours a week on an ad account was able to deliver just about the same ROAS that another ad account delivered which wasn’t touched at all during same period and was only optimized by Facebook’s algorithm. If you want to watch the video at the exact time, you can do so here. Or you could watch the full video below

The reason why I shared this here is because when a robot can deliver the same value, your working hours i-e force is worthless. It’s the displacement that counts, and if a robot can do that better than you, you’ll be replaced. Although, I don’t think that time has come yet but I know it isn’t far.

I’ve used Facebook as a marketing tool for about 10 years now, and to think that there’s no more human tweaking possible on Facebook any longer is an alien concept to me. 10 years ago, you could do a thousand tweaks and the system would play along. Now, it’s increasingly harder but I feel expert marketers i-e a small percentage of all marketers could still do better than the system. In a few more years though, I wouldn’t be surprised if that number shrinks to a mere fraction.

Artisans of Pakistan, E-Commerce & Government Plans

In 2017, a software company in Pakistan reached out to us for support in a project that they were building for the government. The government wanted to provide an end-to-end e-commerce solution to the artisans of Pakistan so they could easily export their product on D2C basis. This means access to e-commerce software/platform, payment gateway, training on how to sell etc. The budget was over a billion Rs. I don’t know the exact budget but I do know it was more than 1 billion Rs. Here’s how I saw the project evolve.

The government required of the software house to build the e-commerce platform in-house in Pakistan. I saw it, it wasn’t bad. But I’m sure it wasn’t and can’t be as good as Shopify – a $100B company, with over 5000 employees. Majority of the billion Rs budget went into the development of this software, which could have been offered to artisans for $29/month with an existing solution or for free with the likes of WooCommerce. For the payment gateway, the government wanted the software house to setup a company in US and setup a payment gateway e.g Stripe that could be shared between all the artisans. And the last stage was to train artisans to enable them with e-commerce skills.

The correct distribution of funds, in my opinion, could be to have the least amount of money spent on the software/platform, slightly more for access to payment gateway, and the most to enable artisans to sell.

In reality, almost all the funds were spent on creating a Shopify clone, that may never see the light of the day with no budget left for payment gateway and training.

This was either yet another attempt of action faking by the government, or a complete lack of strategy despite having good intentions. Whatever it was, it was a disaster, and we quickly saw ourselves disassociate from the meetings.

Amazon In Pakistan

I saw this article making waves in all the e-commerce & startup groups of Pakistan. After I read it, I couldn’t really make much out of it. It didn’t excite me. So I shared it on slack to get the opinion of my colleagues to see if they feel anything different. But we all came to the same conclusion.

One of our colleagues said that this news is similar to PayPal coming to Pakistan for the 24th time.

Another one of my colleague reminded me of another story from 2017 when government spent over a billion Rs to get artisans of Pakistan to sell on the internet. More on this in tomorrow’s blog.

Somehow we all feel, this is headlines. Exactly what the government is good at. Making headlines. And only that.

As I understood it, the government has sent a list of 34 exporters from Pakistan to Amazon so they could be eligible to sell on Amazon. After the trial run, based on the performance of these exporters, government and Amazon will expand this list to other categories.

However I am curious how these exporters were selected? I’m assuming they were either selected by nepotism or by the size of their volume. For the sake of optimism, let’s assume there was no nepotism and they were selected solely based on the size of their volume. Or another powerful metric that made them seem worthy of this selection. However, these traditional metrics say nothing about the exporters’ ability to do well on Amazon. Because selling on a platform like Amazon is a science which isn’t determined solely by the quality of goods, but also largely dependent on the science of launching a product on Amazon.

The transition from offline to online isn’t for everyone. Businesses that have years of selling experience through the old means can not always, and often, transition successfully to new ways of selling.

I can think of countless examples in every industry where the old successful companies often fail to pivot if the industry sees a technological upgrade. Nokia is an example in the phones industry. Kodak is a similar example from the camera industry. When there’s a technological evolution, the old giants fail. The new giants emerge. The large exporters will fail on Amazon no matter how good they are with their products and with the old distribution channels. They need support from the e-commerce experts to run a successful e-commerce business.

For the trial to be successful, a partnership with an e-commerce consultant agency is a must. I’m not sure if there’s a partnership in place. This consultant would ensure that most product launches by most exporters would be successful. This could then help with the expansion of categories as the government plans.

The people who specialize in e-commerce are usually different from people who kick-ass with traditional export channels. For the program to be successful, young blood from the e-commerce space needed to sign up through this program and not the large exporters, or at the minimum in partnership.

Unless the Amazon seller central is available to every citizen of Pakistan, that allows the young blood to compete in a cut-throat marketplace and win, I see this news or any similar news as fake news.

 

Fitness Bands For COVID-19

As the COVID-19 cases continue to increase in Pakistan, all medical supplies are increasingly difficult to buy.

In particular, if you’re a COVID-19 patient, one of the most basic instruments needed to self isolate at home is oximeter which you’re very unlikely to find at any medical stores. Moreover, if you’re able to find it, they are being sold at a much higher price (generally over 5000 PKR) than they originally retailed at.

In comparison, there are many fitness trackers/bands that continue to retail in the 5000 PKR range in Pakistan including Huawei Band 4 and Honor Band 5. They are pretty accurate for measuring blood saturation levels and here’s a quick demo of that.

I just received mine yesterday. If you’re unable to find oximeter, you might consider buying these bands.

Affiliate Marketing Vs Dropshipping

A reader of the blog contacted me to get my opinion on these two topics. For this blog, let’s assume we’re only talking about affiliate marketing of physical products. As with the digital products, the comparison is like apples and oranges.

I prefer dropshipping over affiliate marketing for a variety of reasons so let’s compare the two.

During both affiliate marketing and dropshipping, you’re often creating very little value outside the revenue generated right there and then. However, affiliate marketing, in my humble opinion, is an even lower hanging fruit than dropshipping and I consider dropshipping itself to be a pretty low hanging fruit.

The reason why I think that is because in dropshipping you control the offer end to end. You control the sourcing price of the product. You can play with the quality of the product to increase or decrease the sourcing price. You control the sale price of the product. So, if you’re able to sell the products but unable to make a profit, you could always increase the price and make it profitable for you.

With affiliate marketing, your hands are tied. You only get certain commission per sale. The commission is determined by what the goods cost, how much they are sold for, and how much does the offer provider want to pay you after keeping profits. If your advertising costs are higher than your commissions, then your only option is to optimize advertising. You can not play with the sourcing cost of goods and the sale price to make a profit.

In addition, in affiliate marketing your access to data about the customer is very limited and restricted. You can often not reach out the same customers again to generate more sales in the future without adding additional email capture steps in your funnel. You may also not be able to use the customer data to create lookalikes on ad platforms to target similar customers due to lack of access to customer data.

When dropshipping, you have a much better lock-in with your customers, and a better access to data. While lifetime value often stays low in both cases, you still have better control with dropshipping.

You could also copy anyone’s offer as almost all products are available for sourcing in China and recreate a dropshipping store using the same product, similar landing page etc. So it’s not that difficult at all to use someone else’s offer to create your own dropshipping store.

In addition, for dropshippers just like affiliate marketing, there’s very little to no work that needs to be done with regards to shipping and handling of the products as there are plenty of Chinese vendors who can make this process very seamless for you.

In the end I’m not too fond of both the models, but if I had to do one, I’ll definitely go after the dropshipping model.

Streaks In An Offline Business

I ended up damaging my finger today so typing is bit of a struggle.

I came across this tweet by Moiz Ali, founder of Native. Moiz is known for building a $100M D2C brand that he sold to P&G under 3 years. His company only employed 7 people at the time of acquisition. On his twitter, he likes to give away ideas that he thinks can grow into multi million dollar businesses. Here’s one of his ideas using one of my favorite game-mechanics.

I don’t know much about gym economics, so I don’t know how well this could work. But I do know that gym memberships are sold way beyond the capacity because most members have a poor record of showing up.

If these economics don’t work, I’m sure that a different variant of this same model will definitely work e.g $45/month fee and $1/day waiver so the gym makes $15 even if a member shows up daily. The idea is in the offering and not the pricing.

You’re rewarding your members for showing up daily which encourages them to show up. The statement that you’re making is that your gym really cares about their health as you’re willing to charge less as long the customers are healthier. The attendance rate would still only slightly improve as most members will continue to have attendance rates as before.

In addition, you’re taking 1 year commitment so you’re still likely to make money of your most regular customers.

I think it’s a great idea. What do you guys think?

Toxicity, In Hindsight.

I knew a really really toxic person back when I was involved in running KoolMuzone, a Pakistani music blog. He did everything in his power to destroy my business including using illicit means just because he couldn’t see me do better. Everything that he did kept haunting me for years. But, in hindsight, he gave me 2 beautiful things in the process. I only realized that after my good friend and colleague Faizan Shoaib made me realize.

Firstly, he gave me a lot of knowledge. As I learnt more about the tactics that were used, I also learnt about the remedy as well as the defense. I became an over-all more experienced digital marketer. I pushed my limits and became a better version of myself. All companies should grow like that. E.g PayPal or Facebook are safe because hundreds of thousands of hackers & scammers have tried exploiting the loopholes. They only learnt the remedy as well as the defense to make a better version of their product afterwards.

Secondly, he eventually made me realize that the juice in my business is just not worth the squeeze. He made business so terrible for me, that I had to look for more viable business options with over-all better outlook. He helped me set on to do many businesses that I did afterwards which worked out much better for me.

The Lean Startup With Aamir Attaa

A lot of times I like to remember my humble beginnings. I feel that it’s important for me to do that. They help me remember the original lean startup vision. When your resources are limited, you can naturally grow your business the lean way. But as your business grows, you generally forget a lot of lean principles because you can afford to live without optimizations. A reminder of some of the principles could be great to continue to keep the structure lean wherever possible but most importantly for your future businesses.

This blog is about two humble beginnings, the other one involving Aamir Attaa, founder of ProPakistani, whom I learnt a great deal from. He ended up being one of the most successful and celebrated bloggers who curated content for Pakistani audience. But in 2010, we discussed completely different things. One of them involved how we could save $60 each every month. And here’s an excerpt of that conversation.

His thesis was that since my blog SmashingLists which served the US audience gets majority of it’s traffic at a completely different timezone (9-12 hour difference) than ProPakistani which was targeting Pakistani audience, we could actually upgrade our servers, have higher resources each, host both sites together, and still save $60 each per month.

We went ahead and did that (and continued doing it while it worked). This was a great lesson back then, and a great reminder today.

Amazon As A Cashier

Many times I’ve seen sellers drive traffic to their Shopify and WooCommerce product pages with no buy or cart option. The only way to buy the product is a link to their Amazon listing.

Like you, I also wondered why the sellers aren’t driving traffic straight to Amazon but routing through their privately owned store when their only goal is to sell on Amazon. The short answer is that these sellers use Amazon as a cashier.

Since how well you rank on Amazon is determined by how high your conversion rate is, for external traffic it makes most sense to provide the product details and description outside of Amazon, and only take warm traffic to Amazon with high purchase intent.

This has a much better impact on your rankings in comparison to routing external traffic directly to your Amazon listing that may or may not convert.

My “BBC X SmashingLists” Moment

In 2010, I received an email from BBC about a possible collaboration with my blog SmashingLists. My blog was uniquely positioned in the industry as far as the branding was concerned because it frequently made it to the then front-page of the internet; Digg’s frontpage. Because of that, I started to receive brand inquiries that were way above my pay-scale.

BBC had just launched BBC Earth and were looking for partners for distribution of their content to get visibility. They got in touch so I could publish their stories on my blog as they didn’t have a blog at that time and were just looking for ways to build their brand.

They were hoping that I would then push this story on Digg and get their brand eye-balls.

Guess what did I bill them for this?

Nothing. Yeap. I thought that I’m getting free content from BBC and that probably is great in itself.

I also completely failed to capitalize my future relationship with them.

This is what happens when you give influence to a Pakistani boy who has no idea whatsoever about the billing structure of the west and is happy to take home; nothing.