[VIC – Issue 66] Frequent & big problems. Republicans vs Merriam-Webster. Say hello to the undercover plumber. Grammarly is dope!

Business & Money

In thinking about what side project to work on next, I’m trying to decide what problem to tackle. That is, every business needs to solve a problem. Customer’s don’t even need to realize they have a problem. Think about Nike. Customers already had a lot of alternatives when Nike came on the scene. But they didn’t realize that wearing a certain brand of sneaker could make you cool while playing a sport, could fill an aspirational void, and perhaps even increase your odds of becoming a superstar. They created a market out of thin air.
But back to the point. We can agree that every business needs to solve a problem. That said, not all problems are created equal. In general, I’d say there are 4 different categories. I’ll bring out the top-notch drawing skills to represent these:

I’ve created two axes here:
The Y-axis represents size. Some problems are big and some problems are small. Searching to buy your first house is a massive problem. Conversely, buying tooth pics at the grocery, not so big.
The X-axis represents frequency. Some problems need solving all the time and others are more rare. I like to talk to my friends on a daily basis. I haven’t purchased a personal computer in almost a decade.
If you plot all problems on this plane, they fall within one of four categories. I’ll list them in ascending order from the perspective of which seem to make for good businesses.
1) Infrequent and small. Every now and then there is a water main break in NYC which causes the water to come out brown from the faucet. Thus I’m forced to head to the deli to buy bottled water or even shower at a friends place if the problem persists. This problem, however, is so rare and so small (at least in developed cities) that it would not make any sense to start a company centered around on-demand water bottles or mobile showers. This quadrant is the graveyard and I’d say most should steer clear.
2) Infrequent and big. Perhaps once ever 3-8 years you need to buy a new car (ride-sharing aside). An extremely expensive purchase that takes a considerable amount of time. This category, while good businesses can definitely be built, tend to be hard and capital intensive. Not only are the products themselves very complex, but the customer journey is itself complex. With cars, you are researching online, asking friends, taking test drives, etc. Marketing budgets need to be substantial since you need to stay top of mind in between purchase decisions. You also need to charge customers a lot of money to cover the cost of building the product and acquiring customers. All in all, this category, while better than the first, is still rather hard for startups.
3) Frequent & small. I like to read news about technology and business on a daily basis. It’s incredibly easy to acquire this information from a plethora of email newsletters, websites, blogs, apps etc. If you can build a compelling product in this quadrant, which inevitably becomes a habit, you’ve hit gold, though these can sometimes be fleeting such as mobile games or apps.
4) Frequent & big. You have to talk about Apple here. People will purchase a new iPhone whenever it comes out. And these things are not cheap. You simply NEED to have the best phone whenever it becomes available. Not many companies are lucky enough to hit the sweet spot, but when they do, you get lasting, defensible, cash-rich juggernauts.

Human Progress

I’m pretty sure progress by definition connotes moving forward or in a positive direction. So whether or not you like the Affordable Care Act aka Obamacare (some apparently don’t know these are synonyms for the same thing), it’s an objective statement to say that millions of Americans were able to obtain coverage that was previously outside their means. Seems safe to say that this qualifies as a move in the right direction. How we fund that or how this is implemented is surely up for debate, but we’ll leave that for another day.
The plan now being proposed is trying to completely dismantle the AAA and regress to a time when millions of Americans couldn’t afford healthcare. This seems like a clear step backward. And what happens when people can’t afford healthcare? They don’t seek out preventive care (which is far more effective) and show up in hospitals with incredibly severe conditions that are for more difficult and expensive to treat.
Don’t get me wrong, our healthcare system is in serious need of reform. I’m not sure it should be a mandate that everyone should be forced to obtain coverage (though I don’t see a downside).
Technology and digital health records should pay a much larger role. But hastily throwing away legislation without a legitimate alternative does not seem to fit the definition of progress. And last time I checked, political affiliation has no power over Merriam-Webster.


Every day around 3 pm I have to see a man about a horse (that’s the ridiculous phrase my grandfather used for heading to the bathroom for a #2). This past Wednesday was no different. As I made my way to the bathroom and inside the stall, I came upon an unsettling discovery. The toilet was clogged.😩😩 Luckily it wasn’t one of the gross ones, but instead looked as if someone was on a personal mission to sabotage future visitors by simply unraveling the entire roll of toilet paper into the toilet for no reason at all.
I promptly pumped the breaks, turned around, and made my way into the other stall. All good to go in this one. Then I saw a small plunger inconspicuously sitting in the corner of the stall. I stood staring at it for a few moments not sure what to do. I didn’t clog the other toilet so why should I go out of my way to fix it? Especially when there’s a perfectly functioning one right in front of me. I stood there contemplating for what seemed like ages, but more realistically was probably 10 seconds. I had to make a decision quick. The last thing I wanted was for someone to walk in while I was busy plunging the toilet, which would, of course, give off the impression that I was the guilty party. And you can’t say “I didn’t clog this toilet. I’m just being a good samaritan by clearing it for the next person.” Yea right! 😂😂 That’s totally believable.
So I quickly grabbed the plunger, went back to the original stall and had the thing cleared in about 10 seconds. Easy peasy!
If I had to put a figure on it, I’d say that probably 5% of people would do what I did. Maybe less. In any case, the point here isn’t to seek out a thank you or an acknowledgment for my services, but instead, bring to light the idea itself. Human beings are inherently selfish creatures. Our own affairs are all consuming, especially when being considerate of others will go unnoticed. This is not a good thing. We need more undercover plumbers walking around if we want to collectively flourish!

My Latest Discovery

I approach this newsletter as a rather informal communication channel. As a result, grammatical errors, typos, and other miscues are all too common. And I’m honestly not so concerned about it.
That said, Grammarly has been a godsend. You know the spellcheck functionality within Microsoft Word, Grammarly is basically spell check embedded within your browser. It calls out mistakes in the same way Word does while you write emails, blog posts or comments on social networks. If you head to the Grammarly site and log in, there’s even a browser based document editor. Now that I think about it, I can’t believe that it took until 2017 for cloud-based word processors. It’s still the norm to purchase software licenses from Microsoft and download a local version to your computer. Bananas!! 🍌🍌

Shout out to my loving grandmother for always pointing out my mistakes! 😍


It’s a Wrap! ✌️ & ❤️️ in the upcoming week!