Brazil’s religious growth and democracy

Brazil is one of the few countries that could be a world leader in pretty much any category – tourism, natural resources, human capital – you name it. Given its several centuries connection with Portugal, I’ve been following with a lot of worry its political and social path as of late.

Bolsonaro, Brazil’s President, was elected with a huge support from the evangelical communities. These communities now account for more than 30% of Brazil’s population, and are on track to surpass Catholicism believers in the next 10 years. They also control 91 senators already.

It’s very early to really understand why this is happening, but there’s a quote from Frank Hebert’s Magnum Opus, Dune, that struck a chord with me recently:

It’s well known that repression makes a religion flourish.

Also, in the same book, there’s another interesting quote:

When religion and politics travel in the same cart, the riders believe nothing can stand in their way. Their movement becomes headlong – faster and faster and faster. They put aside all thoughts of obstacles and forget that a precipice does not show itself to the man in a blind rush until it’s too late.’

A lot of people feared that the US could became Atwood’s “A Handmaid’s Tale” dystopia. Fortunately, its institutions are much more resilient that people realized (It is, though, still early for any victory laps).

In Brazil’s case, the institutions were already shattering, with cracks showing, but I fear the worst is yet to come.

Notes on the future of work

This is an adapted and translated opinion piece I wrote for a Portuguese newspaper, Observador. You can check the original here.


The future of work is frequently over simplified as a need to equip our workers with new skills. In fact, if we only consider this aspect, we leave out the opportunity to rethink the society in which we live and want to live, and find possibilities where the focus on more producitivity leads to better quality of life, not less.

This future implies giving people more options. It implies having leaderships applied by influence intead of authority. It implies that work is thought as a social elevator, not just safety nets for people. For this, governments should continuously tweak the labor market to make sure it remains fair and competitive. Many years ago, I believed that governments should play a passive role in how people work. At acompanies micro level, I still enthusiastically believe in this. However, at a macro level, we should, as a society, think of the types of companies we want, and give the markets the tools to build them (instead of having the governments build them themselves.)

So what are the trends for this new decade?

Many companies are already testing a few initiatives: Microsoft Japan launched a pilot with the team working 4 days a week, which led to a 40% increase in productivity.

Quality of life is in itself a strong enough reason to try to find new solutions for work, but competitiveness is also at stake. Any business today can hire quality resources for design, programming, marketing and even management positions around the world, often even remotely.

This means that it is not only our physical products that have to compete in the world market, but also the way our organizations are designed.

Technology is an enabler for the future of work, it’s not the future itself

Technology is seen as the catalyst for this change and is often seen as the simple, turnkey solution to the work of the future (often using the moniker “Digital Transformation”). Unfortunately, technology does not create a new culture within the company, it only enhances the culture that already exists. If, for example, there is no good communication, technology will only make communication worse. The same happens with productivity – if the organization is poorly designed, poorly thought out, people are unmotivated, it is not software that will make it competitive by itself.

Fortunately, there are reasons for some optimism – even in Portugal, we’ve seen cases where industries have repositioned themselves, making their companies more competitive and at the same time improve the quality of life of their workers. According to APPICAPS, a consortium from the Portuguese footwear industry, 95% of production is exported to 152 countries, sales have grown by 60% in the last 10 years, and 10,000 new jobs have been created during this period.

To achieve these numbers, the industry had to find a strategic positioning that does not compete for the lowest price, but for the best quality at a decent price. Tactics were found to improve productivity, marketing, procurement channels and production quality. It is, without any doubt, an industry preparing itself for the future.

Other countries have found interesting solutions to fund this transition to new skills. Singapore, for example, created the SkillsFuture program (funded by Social Security). In France, there is a bank of hours for workers to use in training for new skills.

Portugal be a leader in the future of work. The first step would be to start with a broader debate on the subject, involving all sectors. Learning from many successful examples and having the public sector, companies, NGOs involved, we will have the opportunity to design and build a working environment where we, as human beings, can truly thrive.

2020: Read, think, write, do

For the last 6 years, I’ve had a reading challenge set up on Goodreads – Here are my readings from 2019. It’s fun to look back at different years and see what I read then, refresh the memory on those books and make suggestions to friends. Ever more important than that, I feel that having a yearly target helps me have an extra nudge every day to read a bit more.

This year, I want to take that challenge to other realms: thinking and writing and doing. But first of all, I’ll slighthly stretch my 2020 reading challenge to 40 this year. As per usual, I’ll try to have a varied set of books on the list, from philosophy to sci-fi, from physical books to digital and even audio books. One of the things I’ve learned with these challenges is that reading different book types and in different formats helps maintaining a good pace throughout the year.

Think

Massimo Pigliucci, our contemporary, modernized Epictetus, has written a book called “Live like a Stoic“. It contains 52 weekly exercises that are a simple practice to cultivating a good life. I’ve read at least one book on Stoicism every year on the past decade, so I thought it would be cool to use this framework as a more practical approach to this philosophy.

Write

I want to have a weekly writing pace – Last year, I’ve written 10 blogposts (7 of which are live on Reveries). Given my work demands, I didn’t force myself any challenge with the blog at all, just wanted to write whenever I felt like it.

The writing experience has been incredibly fulfilling – whenever I start writing a blogpost, it usually flows fairly fast, requires 2-3 proofreads and it’s publishable. WordPress helps a lot, too: its writer, backend, and mobile app are fantastic.

Do

Back in 2010 I read David Allen’s Getting Things Done, and ever since I’ve been studying and testing different productivity tricks and methodologies. I ended up taking bits and pieces from different places and coming up with one that worked for me.

By the end of 2018, I read about the Bullet Journal method, and one particular funcionality stood out to me: it was supposed to be modular and customized to every person, so I ended up adapting my method to it, and was very happy with the result (albeit with some faults). This year, I want to follow it a bit more strictly, specially with the weekly reviews every Sunday. (I’ll probably write a separate blogpost documenting my methodology this year).


I guess every first blogpost of the year is full of hopes and aspirations, which eventually gets punched in the face by reality – I’m sure I won’t be able to Read, Think, Write and Do everything that I want, but I’m pretty sure that doing it deliberately and with a goal in mind makes me closer to it.

Here’s to an amazing 2020!

My 2019 podcast picks

I’ve been a podcast fan for over 10 years – it’s incredible to see how this format has evolved to the be the fastest growing advertising category, with companies like Spotify, Apple and Google heavily investing in the category. Currently, 90 million people listen to podcasts on a monthly basis – and that’s just in the US.

This year I’ve subscribed to several new podcasts, but unsubscribed from many more. I’ve tried to be less loyal to each podcast, to try a broader range of things. Here are my highlights:


Business Pick

Pivot, from Vox Media

The only tech podcast I listen the second I see it popping up on my feed. I love the fact that Kara and Scott have strong opinions, loosely held, and have no regard for political correctness (which in 2019, is a breath of fresh air.).

They’re both very active on Twitter, too – check Scott and Kara.


Economics Pick

Conversations with Tyler

Tyler in an incredible interviewer – not just in economy-related topics. Most podcasters spend way too many words trying to ask something relevant, whereas in Tyler’s case he is sharp and precise in each interaction. I also deeply appreciate that he doesn’t ask for everyone’s background story in each interview and dives deep in the interviewee’s expertise straight way.


General Pick

Making Sense, Sam Harris

Sam has a rare mental clarity, which he combines with a capacity to craft every sentence in a very deliberate way. He talks as he was reading from a book. Topics on his podcast are as wide ranging as it gets – science of consciousness, mindfulness, philosophy, modern affairs, politics, among many others.


Politics Pick

Intelligence Squared

Good debates are rare these days. Listening to both sides of an argument in a civil manner, where people respect the other’s point of view no matter how distant is sadly underated. Here’s an excellent exception: A live debate, where people vote on a topic before they enter the room, and after the debate vote again, to see how the opinion shifted with the conversation.


History Pick

You’re Dead to Me, BBC

If you like the idea of liking history, but deep down you feel that it’s a dull and dry topic, you’re in a for a (British) treat. Every week, the hosts pick a historical event, bring an expert, and challenge what everyone knows about it. Nothing dry about this treat.

Let me know if you have any podcast recommendations – would be great to start preparing 2020’s picks!

Israel through glass

10PM, 32ºC. Landing in Ben Gurion Airport – what a start for a journey of breathtaking beauty, an endless cultural site, and a geo-political conflict that I know way more than I knew before arriving, but failed to actually swing in any direction.

In a world where opinions are constructured and shared faster than the speed of light, there’s probably no topic that deserves more calm consideration without pre-judgement, as there is so many history layers that you we are not aware.

As you travel around Israel, I found it almost impossible to not think about this conflict as the background of every picture I took. I knew it was a fruitless quest for an answer to the question of “Who’s right and wrong?”: nobody in the world has it, really. But the journey had to start somewhere, and we started right were it all began. Jerusalem.

Arguably, there are no other cobbled streets in the world is these layers of history.

Jerusalem is around 5,000 years old as a city. 3,000 years ago, King David conquered it and made it the capital of the Jewish empire. The Jewish people reigned in the city for over 1,000 years, then the Christians reigned for around 400, then the Muslims for over 1,300 years, until the modern Jewish state of Israel conquered the East side of Jerusalem to Jordan in 1967.

Over the millenia, the city always had many ferverent adepts of different religions that had to learn to live together (co-living is an euphemism, mostly they were fighting for control and religious superiority).

In modern Jerusalem, this religious tension is still very much present – despite being militarily controlled by Israel.

The muslim quarter is where most of the shops are. It’s not the Grand Bazaar, but it comes close! Bargaining is expected and respected. If you look on the surface, it’s just your typical market. As you start to notice the details, every corner has a religion, every person a specific kind of clothing.

The fact that this mixture feels so normal gives you a certain hope of a future of co-existence.

Damascus Gate, built in 1537, still stands as one of the most impressive entrances in the Old City.
The Dome of the Rock, in the Temple Mount, is the most distinctive building in Jerusalem’s skyline.
The whole importance of Temple Mount for all religions is a massive post in itself, so I can’t cover it now!
The view from the Tower of David (not a Tower, not built by David. Long story, yet again.)
Masada Citadel at sunrise. Amazing story.
Aida camp in Palestine. It’s considered the oldest refugee camp in the world, and currently has over 5,000 people living there, very actively (or agressively) monitored by Israeli troops.

There were so many gut-wrentching stories of Israeli abuse of Palestinian land, people and tradition. Confrontation is common.

Last stop was Israel’s biggest city, Tel-Aviv. (There’s debate wether Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.)

If you have the chance to visit Tel-Aviv and nothing more, none of the above will seem familiar. The city is vibrant, full of life, has amazing food, beaches and it’s as modern as Bauhaus can make it.

Even the beaches are full of life: people jogging, playing, listening to music, swimming.
The Bauhaus arquitecture is very hard to miss. It’s leading lines make it a huge standout for photography.
The city barely sleeps – buzzing streets, tons of bars and restaurants on the street, everyone making the best of every moment.
A new dawn for Israel.

This contrast between the old and the new, the deeply rooted thinking with avant-garde ideas, makes Israel on the most special places to visit. It’s a trip for your mind, as you debate the current conflict, your body, as you hike up the Masada citadel, and your soul, as you reflect on your own existence.

Lisbon Through Glass

They say one of the hardest cities to photograph is the one you are currently living. You have grown accustomed to a certain light, certain details, even certain faces, that you don’t realize what really makes it unique.

During a photography workshop, we were to take up on this challenge, so I tried to capture some of Lisbon’s essence. This is by no means extensive, just some – hopefully different – perspective on this highly instagrammable town.

I’ll have many more Through Glass coming soon, feel free to subcribe for more!

Attentive’s work cadence

When you’re building a company, the rules you set as to how work (and people) evolve can massively influence your chances of success.

Having a company cadence is something that everyone agrees is important, but it’s the first to be ignored when something critical happens. In the startup world, this happens pretty much every week, so it requires a big dose of determination from the founders to not let it derail over time.

One of our mentors at Techstars, Zach Nies, aptly reminded us that startups are great at making motion but terrible at making progress.

Progress means that the company has a common goal, has a plan on how to get there, and keeps checking if we’re moving towards the goal to readjust if needed. Making motion is being “busy” without a common goal.

At Attentive, we try to be very deliberate around our internal cadence, which starts with OKRs.

OKRs

Step one if defining what you want to achieve as a team. In other words, how will the organization look like when you achieve it?

This is your Objective.

The Key Results are the 3-5 specific metrics that will tell you if you achieved or not. The question to answer here is “How will we know if we’re making progress towards the objective?”

For each of those metrics, we normalize them to fit all in a 0-1 scale, where 0 is you literally achieved nothing of that metric to 1, where you delivered more that what was requested. These key metrics should be interdependent: if one focuses on volume, make sure you have one that covers quality, etc.

After you’re happy with the OKR you defined, communicate it – sorry – overcommunicate it, print it, keep referring to it. Specially if your new team members have never used OKR’s, you have to be incredibly repetitive. The main reason I see OKRs failing is people forgetting they existed in the first place.

If your team is aligned behind a quarterly OKR, you will save so much time when discussing what should be prioritized.

If someone on your team has a great idea, ask them: which key result will you improve with that idea?

“The art of management,” Andy Grove wrote, “lies in the capacity to select from the many activities of seemingly comparable significance the one or two or three that provide leverage well beyond the others and concentrate on them.”

There’s a lot of great material around OKRs from Google, Techstars, John Doer’s book Measure What Matters and many more – make sure you make it simple for people to remember, instead of going for a overcomplex version right from the start.

Quarterly retreat

Every quarter, we have a company offsite where we discuss the progress we’ve made versus our OKRs, and also announce the new ones for next quarter. Apart from that, every team shares their highs and lows, what we should improve on our cadence and culture.

Making sure that everyone participates and every voice is heard is absolute key for the success of this day.

Oh, and don’t forget to celebrate the wins, even when specially when times are hard.

Quarterly reviews

As you use the retreat to get the pulse of the whole company, it’s worth having a 1:1 check-in with everyone on the week after and answer a couple of questions:

  • What were you main highlights of the quarter?
  • What are your areas of development for next quarter?
  • What would you improve on Attentive’s communication, tools, cadence?

This should take maximum one hour, and we try to keep it as high level as possible, without going into much tactical stuff. It’s useful distance yourself as much as possible from the day to day: think about being a metereologist, talking about how the weather has changed over the quarter, without any judgement of performance.

After this session, everyone has a firm plan on what they want to improve to continue growing, in a way that is aligned with the company’s OKRs.

Monthly check-in

This is a quick 30 min check-in (doesn’t have to be with the whole company, if you have a management layer already) to see how we are performing vs. the OKR. Ideally, you only try to make sure you’re allocating your resources towards the objectives and not losing focus.

In the extreme case that your OKR is completely off, it might be worth revisiting with everyone.

Weekly 1:1

Every week, managers have a 30 min chat with each team member. In this session, the lead is the team member, not the manager, which means they can use the time as they please: to discuss a new project, to talk about any professional frustration, or simply to share a work update.

It’s the role of the manager to try, with a purely Socratic approach, to get the team members to go a level deeper on the why’s of their decisions, instead of being simply a forum of information exchange (Slack or email are better places for that).

Weekly All Hands

Every monday, we have about 45 mins all together to give a quick round up of what every team is up to, and discuss any blocking matters. It’s also a good forum for team-wide announcements.

The only thing to keep in mind with the All Hands is not letting it be a discussion forum – it’s a waste of resources locking the whole team in discussions that might be solved in a smaller group.

Oh, remember how I mentioned in the begining that you have to overcommunicate OKRs? This is a great place to refer to them week after week.

Weekly CEO email

After the All Hands, the CEO sends a weekly email update with the highlights of the week for a) the people that couldn’t be in the All Hands and b) to keep a simple log of the team’s progress, week by week.

Daily meeting

Each functional area meets (physically or virtually) for about 10-15 mins to share what they’ve worked on yesterday, what they have planned for today and also anything blocking that they could need help with. Just as with the All Hands, it’s a not a discussion forum, and if any discussion is needed, we can just finish the daily meeting and let whoever’s needed in the room to continue without locking the others.


Maybe this sounds like a lot of bureaucracy – but if you add everything up, it’s actually less that 2.5h a week for each team member. We have a couple more functional internal meetings (like a weekly sales sync, for example) and keep testing different formats for that.

This is a very very low investment for the exponential improvement in focus and alignment that you’ll get as a company. Furthermore, each team member will clearly understand their role and impact and have a growth plan.

Our cadence is by no means perfect and we don’t follow it 100% all of the time, but I believe it’s an unsung hero of our work, that will become a strong competitive advantage for years to come.

Things I learned to photograph better

Find different angles

Never shoot the same picture as everyone else does. Move up, move down, take a picture of the crowd taking pictures. Even if the picture ends up being, all things considered, worse than the one that everyone takes, it’s yours. Overtime, as you train your angles, you will have creative pictures of popular subjects. 

Incense sticks in central Vietnam, 2018.

Don’t forget to play with ISO

Amateur photographers like me understand the concept of aperture and speed early in the process. The thing is, there are actually four variables in photography that can be used when the former two don’t. For example, if you’re taking urban pictures at night, you’d benefit a lot by increasing the ISO to a value that is still good in your camera (in my X-T20, I usually put at 3200).

Several cameras have a “fn” button somewhere that you can use to quickly change ISO. 

The basic rule I use is: use the minimum ISO possible during the day (or any scenario with very high luminance), and when I see that the camera is using a very low speed (something like 1/60 or lower), then I raise the ISO until I get it to a safe >1/100.

The art of focus

Playing with focus is core to telling the story you want: it adds depth, forces people to look first on the focused part of the picture and ignore the blurry parts, and it’s something that smartphones are miles away still from getting it right versus a good camera. 

I’ve been trying to be more deliberate about using aperture to pick a specific depth of field and telling a specific story. 

On this picture, only the first statue is in focus. 35mm f/2, 1/3800
All statues are (mostly) in focus. 35mm f/16, 1/75

Beware of the boiling frog in post

I do my minor post production using Darktable or directly on Google Photos, and I always over expose, over saturate, and over-you-name-it. When I look at the pictures I edited the next day, I always tweak them back about 30-40% to make it look much more natural.

Google photos is king

Speaking of Google Photos – it is, by far, the best way to manage my endless pictures. If you still have doubts, simply use the search function and you’ll be amazed. It’s completely free (although there’s a limit to 16MP but Google’s compression is pretty good).

Google Photos search treats your photos as your email: add everything, you can easily search later.

Pricing in startups

Pricing has always been a simple math formula: cost of goods sold + markup (based on several risks and willingness to pay). In a way, it’s calculated inside-out: you set the price beforehand, and after a few weeks in the market you start getting feedback on how it has been perceived.

This model is much more predictable and great to do business modelling, since the price of the final product will fall into a standard range. Given the costly distribution channels (you can’t put your physical product in thousands of stores just to test the price), it is the only way to do it.

From my years studying business, this is exactly how we were taught. Since management began, pricing was probably one of the few aspects of your marketing mix that is fairly simple.

… then, the Internet happened: distribution channels for digital products are fragmented and marginally free, products are very cheap to create, which means that it is not indexed to the cost of production anymore. Not too dissimilar to the fall of the gold standard.

 

So how to you find the right price for your product?

In software startups, the price is calculated the other way around – you only take into account what the market is willing to pay, and since your distribution channels are virtually free, you can test pricing before you even have the product available. This way, the price is set outside-in: the market tells you what your price is, it’s not decided internally.

Let’s say that you have a task list app that you want to charge $10 a month per user. To decide if it’s too expensive or too cheap, you should benchmark to other apps in the market that are selling already, even if they have a different set of features, to get a sense of the willingness to pay.

You might notice that the average price of other task list apps is 5$, which means that you can do two things:

  1. Keep the price at $10. You have to invest in marketing collateral to show your potential users why they should pay double the price.
  2. Lower it to the market benchmark. If you don’t feel like your app has a perceived value proposition above your competitors, you can’t price it above. it would be as unsustainable as point 3.
  3. (not really) Price it below market. This is a race to bottom, where you’ll easily find an open source project that can do what you can do. You might sell more in the short term, but your business will not be viable in the longer run.

At the end of the day, setting price becomes much more iterative and a learning game, instead of a long-term component of your business plan. It removes the structure of the pricing strategy, which gives you many more options to play with.

Enough knife sharpening

I’ve been thinking about blogging regularly for almost a decade. When I logged back in here in WordPress, I’ve noticed that I had 4 blogs in draft, not too far off from a world record I assume! On top of that, I’ve read books on writing non-fiction and countless blog posts.

Thoughout the years, countless reasons made me delay the decision once more. The main one was simply that I am not a professional writer and also that I am still forming my opinion on pretty much all the topics that I care about.The knife still needed to be sharpened, but it was a project that I knew would become a reality.

Writing is hard.

However, there is an overwhelming aspect of blogging that I can’t ignore anymore – it has a compounding effect in all my work: it makes me a better colleague, more versed in the subjects I write about and makes me structure my random thoughts (i.e. reveries) in a much deeper way.

I have many ideas for future blog posts already in draft, and I’m still thinking about what cadence I’ll write, so there are many things to improve, including on the site’s design. In spite of that, I want to focus solely on writing regulary, good or bad, short or long, interesting or just a random thought. Over time, a pattern of value will emerge and will become the focus of the writing.

So enough knife sharpening. If you’re joining right on the first blog post, I sincerely hope to be embarrassed looking back 5 years from now.

Thank you.