Pingcoin in Iran

After publishing a new feature for Pingcoin where users can submit coin recordings for addition into the app, I’ve seen users submitting coins every week. This is incredibly encouraging. The only drawback to this situation is that although the system is getting more coverage (e.g. more coins) it’s not getting necessarily more accurate (e.g. more recordings per coin). I’ve been thinking about how to solve this.

It’s worth noting that I’ve received two recordings from Iran so far from the Bahar Azadi coin. A young trader has reached out to me and has been kind enough to explain to me a bit more about the situation in Iran. For one they’ve recently been hit by a market crash which sent the value of the dollar and gold plummeting.

Two gold Azadi coins submitted by a user in Iran

 

He’s told me of the situation in Iran where there is a 8% markup above spot price for gold coins from the Iranian mint. This has given counterfeiters the incentive to mint their own coins of correct composition, to capture this markup value. One of his questions was whether or not the ping test would be able to catch these types of counterfeits.

Iranian plaza where gold coins are bought and sold (image submitted by my new friend in Iran)

 

My answer is probably not, but I’m willing to do some more research with him. Like a musical instrument, the sound of a coin depends on its shape and its material. If you manage to mimic both, you will mimic the sound as well. Thus a counterfeit coin which uses the correct composition would sound the same as a genuine one. I suspect there might be some differences at the microscopic level (e.g. differences in crystallinity) between different minting processes, but whether or not these will be great enough (or predictable enough) to detect a difference, I don’t know.

I know from doing some research into the German Reich 20 mark coins, which were minted by numerous mints, that some differences were detectable between the mints. The distributions for each resonance frequency was centered on distinctly different frequencies. The problem, however, was that the distributions themselves overlap. So although there would be some coins which you could tell apart, many of them you would not. I would expect a similar situation for the Azadi coins.

Having said so much about the domain specific things within Pingcoin it’s worth making a meta comment about what’s going on here. My goal with releasing this feature was to initiate a user feedback loop. I wanted to get in touch with users. To better understand them and to iterate on the product. This is now happening and it’s great for more than one reason. For one it’s great because it’s satisfying and motivating on a human level. I am talking to people across the world that (apparently) value what I’m doing. That’s amazing. It’s especially nice to hear that my product is making a difference since it’s not an industry I’m deeply embedded in myself and because I had honestly given up on that hope much earlier. The reason I got this far has more to do with an unshakable compulsion to finish what I started, rather than some clear value-driven mission.

Secondly, it’s great because it’s teaching me more about my users, their use cases and the context of their use of my product. For instance, my Iranian friend mentioned that he trades coins in 10 packs and that trades happen quickly, making it difficult to do a manual test for each coin. This information will inevitably feed into the product and improve it. These two elements, motivation plus direction from the market, are what I was missing the last time I was working on this idea (2012-2013). It’s incredibly gratifying to find these here now.

It’s also interesting to note that my process for improving the app is quite slow. Even though I created the submit-a-coin feature as quickly as I could, I tend to think carefully about the problems I’m trying to solve and their solutions. I really let the problem marinate in my head and try to come up with various solutions in my head (which I also often sketch out). I’m not deliberately slowing down the product development process (perhaps because I’m not devoting 100% of my time to this idea), however, my sense is that it takes time to arrive at a solid idea. Often I’ll have a good idea with some drawbacks, followed by another good idea with some drawbacks, and then through the marinating process I’ll combine them into a super solid idea, without drawbacks. Reading Kolko’s while I’m doing this is also just perfectly on point:

Design is slow and not just because it takes longer. Because it’s reflective, contemplative, and methodical, design encourages marinating and stewing, exploring and dreaming.

-Well Designed by Jon Kolko

What’s marinating in my head right now is how to move to a situation where my app is getting progressively more accurate due to the data it collects. This is made difficult by several factors:

  • I don’t have access to many coins myself
  • I can ask users to contribute coins, but I am not able to verify whether these are authentic or not
  • I’ve asked dealers (who would be able to verify coins) to contribute to this cause, but so far they’ve not been very interested
  • Even if someone is interested, it could be a bit cumbersome to upload a 5MB .wav file every time you try to do a quick test
  • Even if you’re willing to upload a recording, I need additional information about the coin to be able to add it to my database (e.g. year of minting). This can be cumbersome to enter.

Meanwhile there are some usability issues that also need to be resolved, most notably the onset detection part of the coin testing flow (e.g. detecting the moment a coin gets flicked). This is also something that has been marinating in my head and for which a first solution is already fairly clear (a web-based onset labeller). More on that as I progress.

I remember the app being in a semi-finished state and feeling torn about whether or not to proceed with it. Initially I chose not to, but it kept bugging at me. Then I revisited it, but did not build a submit-a-coin feature (instead routing users to a web form with a recording option). It was only after seeing that users were trying to send me coin recordings that I realized it would probably be worth building the feature properly. I can only say, I’m glad I did.

Why write at all?

An essay on why I hadn’t started writing in spite of being aware of the apparent benefits it has brought people whom I admire.

People I admire recommend writing

I was listening to the Indiehackers podcast episode where Rob Walling tells the story of how he got started as a bootstrapped entrepreneur.

What stuck with me was that he seemed to attribute much of his success to writing a weekly essay on his blog.

Among other things, he shares how his writing allowed him to grow an audience which he would later leverage to launch his book.th

One reason this part of the story stuck with me is because it’s not the first time I’ve heard it.

Other entrepreneurs I admire (e.g. Nathan Barry, Chris Guillebeau, Brennan Dunn, Nat Eliason) have also emphasized a similar lesson about writing and it seems to go something like this:

When you write regularly, good stuff tends to happen.

They are not claiming there to be a direct relationship between writing and beneficial consequences, like, say, between caloric intake and bodyweight.

No, they’re saying that there is something about a regular writing practice which somehow results in you experiencing benefits you would have had a hard time anticipating beforehand.

What they are saying is that writing benefits you… somehow

Although Rob was able to leverage the audience he had grown in order to sell his book — he did not set out to write with the explicit goal of writing and selling a book.

The book emerged from his consistent practice of blogging in public.

Nat Eliason also touches on this topic in a recent essay while discussing the success of a Kegel exercise app he developed:

I didn’t make Stamena until I saw how much traffic my articles were sending to the app store for someone else’s app.

When you already know you have a stream of people asking for a product, making that product gets much less risky.

This logic is probably why so much passive income advice comes out to some form of “start a blog!” That’s not terrible advice, but most blogs don’t make money. The better advice would be “start a blog that talks about things people will pay for.”

Analogous to Rob’s story, Nat did not start writing articles on Kegel exercises so he could sell a Kegel app.

Instead, through his practice of regular public blogging, that opportunity emerged.

Opportunities emerge when you write a lot.

That seems like a fair enough statement, but is there anything else we can say about why that would be the case?

Is it simply due to an increase in your surface area on the internet?

I suspected that wasn’t the case and I tried to figure out if perhaps there is more to a regular writing practice that would warrant this consistent, yet somewhat nebulous advice.

What can be said about how writing benefits us?

Writing without publishing helps us refine our thoughts and edit them

One way we think about writing is as a process where words are chosen and transferred onto paper (or a screen) in order to communicate an idea.

In this mental model of writing the idea is clear, all that is left is to find the right words to accurately map it into language.

This, as I’ve discovered, is not a very accurate mental model of writing.

A more accurate, and more helpful, mental model is one where you start with an idea that is not entirely clear, and in your attempts to capture it with words, sentences and paragraphs, it becomes more refined in your mind.

Prof. Dr. Jordan Peterson stresses this point in some of his writing and in some of his talks.

He describes writing as formalized thinking and refers to it as one of the most important things you can practice in life, in general.

You can find out more about his ideas on writing in a quirky little word document, an essay-writing tutorial for his students, which has been floating around on the internet.

In it he says:

The primary reason to write an essay is so that the writer can formulate and organize an informed, coherent and sophisticated set of ideas about something important.

The act of writing, he says, helps you formulate your thoughts. But he goes a bit further:

Why is it important to bother with developing sophisticated ideas, in turn? It’s because there is no difference between doing so and thinking, for starters. It is important to think because action based on thinking is likely to be far less painful and more productive than action based upon ignorance. So, if you want to have a life characterized by competence, productivity, security, originality and engagement rather than one that is nasty, brutish and short, you need to think carefully about important issues. There is no better way to do so than to write. This is because writing extends your memory, facilitates editing and clarifies your thinking.

You can write down more than you can easily remember, so that your capacity to consider a number of ideas at the same time is broadened. Furthermore, once those ideas are written down, you can move them around and change them, word by word, sentence by sentence, and paragraph by paragraph. You can also reject ideas that appear substandard, after you consider them more carefully. If you reject substandard ideas, then all that you will have left will be good ideas. You can keep those, and use them. Then you will have good, original ideas at your fingertips, and you will be able to organize and communicate them.

According to Prof. Peterson writing requires you to explore a topic and in doing so you are required to clarify and edit your thoughts.

You stand to benefit from clearer thoughts because actions rooted in clear thoughts will do more to bring you closer to your goals.

Writing is not like taking dictation from an internal thought stream.

This used to be my mental model.

It’s inaccurate and unhelpful.

Writing is thought-refinement through exploration.

Writing and publishing increases our surface on the internet

This is the most straight-forward benefit and the one that is the easiest to intuit.

As you write more you increase the amount of space you inhabit on the internet, through which you are increasing the odds that one of your ideas reaches someone and resonates with them.

As a result they may interact with your idea, spread it, or both.

Writing about something makes it available to you when you are speaking

Sean Wes talks about this in this podcast episode.

The best [podcast] improv comes from writing.This podcast, a lot of what we talk about and a lot of things I touch on are things I’ve written about before. Sometimes I go off of my outline but most of this is just off the cuff with just a few prompts. And because I’ve written about things before it comes to my mind and even if it’s improv it’s still good.

He says that because he wrote about certain topics they come to mind during the podcast and he can speak about them off the cuff.

Writing and publishing gives us the ability to iterate on ideas

Once you’ve refined your thoughts you can take the additional step to publish them and invite others to interact with them.

Through these interactions your idea might evolve.

Everything you write and publish can be seen as the start of a conversation.

Conversations about ideas can allow you to iterate and improve on those ideas.

Starting a conversation about an idea may also tell you whether or not the idea is worth iterating on at all.

Through iteration, ideas may lead to opportunities (business or otherwise).

Thinking of a published piece of writing as a prototype has the added benefit of lowering the internal barrier you maintain for yourself when it comes to publishing.

Publishing our writing keeps us honest

Prof. Jonathan Haidt in his book The Righteous Mind explains how the public nature of the academic review process helps balance out the individual biases held by the researchers taking part in it.

The governing dynamic is that we behave differently in public compared to how we behave in private.

If we believe we are being observed and that what we say or write will be scrutinized by others, we are more honest and by extension more scientific. Writing in public contributes to us being more honest and accurate in our thought processes. The more accurate our thoughts, the more helpful they will be in aiding us while we navigate reality.

Adam Wathan touches on this in his Indiehackers interview. In it he explains how weekly interactions with his following keep him honest and keep him focused on making progress.

There is also something called the False Consensus Effect, a known psychological bias that affects all of us. What it comes down to is that we tend to overestimate to what degree others agree with our opinions. That is, until we publish those opinions and are able to observe those reactions (or lack thereof).

Writing and publishing persuades

Writing seems like it could leverage many, if not all, of the 6 principles of persuasion as identified by Dr. Robert Cialdini.

A valuable blog with a regular publishing schedule could contribute to the influence you wield through the principles of consistency, likeability, authority and reciprocity.

Increasing your influence may lead to opportunities or may give you the ability to seize upon them when they present themselves.

Writing regularly may help you hone this skill.

Writing will help you with your reading

Taylor Pearson says the following:

The more I write, the more I need to read. Last year I got really busy and stopped reading for a month. When I sat down to write an article, I couldn’t think of anything to say.

When I’m reading consistently, my ideas for new articles to write, new approaches to consulting engagements, or new things to do in my personal life turn into a torrent.

Was any of this really a surprise?

I was aware many successful people recommend writing.

I was aware a blog could probably increase the serendipity in your life.

I would have believed that there were probably multiple worthwhile benefits to a writing regularly.

Why, then, did I never start writing?

If it wasn’t a surprise, why didn’t I act on this earlier?

When I started writing this essay, I asked myself this question and no answer came to mind.

None. My mind drew a blank.

I didn’t have a clear reason.

Or perhaps I should say, I wasn’t clear on the reasons.

That is, until I started writing.

Through the process of writing this essay, answers to this question have emerged and have become clear.

This, as I’m coming to understand, is arguably the most powerful benefit of writing.

Writing is idea-refinement through exploration.

Here is what my exploration uncovered:

I never clarified my thoughts about why I wasn’t writing

Possibly the main reason why I wasn’t writing regularly is, ironically, that I never took the time to write about it.

Without writing about the question why I wasn’t writing, I never explored it in earnest, and never clarified my thoughts.

Now, after writing about it and organizing my thoughts on the subject, I am able to present them to you here.

I didn’t consider myself a “writer”

One of the first feelings I identified as potentially holding me back from writing is a feeling of not feeling like a writer.

Nathan Barry writes about this very feeling and perhaps it can be fully described as a manifestation of impostor syndrome.

Having said that, I never felt like I lacked the capability of being a writer — a feeling I believe is a prerequisite to impostor syndrome.

Being a “writer” was not part of my identity.

Productivity expert James Clear talks about how identity forms the basis of behavioral change.

Lasting behavioral change, according to James, comes from a change in identity.

Change your identity and your behavior will follow.

Keep your identity unchanged, as I did, and your behavior will remain the same.

I didn’t think whatever I would do would make an impact

I didn’t think anything I would write could have much of an impact, because my reach seemed severely limited.

This is another thing that Prof. Peterson invites us to reflect upon.

He makes the case that we are connected to millions of people just by two or three degrees of separation.

Without appreciating the results of this simple thought exercise, we’re likely to underestimate our potential impact.

I certainly was doing so.

I felt discouraged every time I discovered I didn’t understand a topic

A second feeling I identified is something that occurs when I choose to write about a topic and I erroneously (and naively) assume that I understand it.

When, through the process of writing and trying to pin down an idea, I realize I cannot, I become disappointed.

I can sense my internal time estimation for finishing the article (or essay) as quickly growing and becoming increasingly uncertain.

Before, I might have thought I could finish the article in an afternoon, now I’m not even sure another day would be sufficient.

(This has happened to me a lot while writing content for my men’s breakup advice blog and has happened multiple times while writing this essay.)

My inner talk shifts to: “Who do I think I am writing about something I don’t even understand?”, never realizing that uncovering and grappling with the unknown lies at the heart of what writing is.

Writing is exploring — not taking dictation.

If you consider yourself an explorer, unknown territory is the norm.

I tried to connect the dots looking forward

Let’s imagine we’re speaking with Rob Walling back in his early days, right before he committed to writing on a weekly basis.

Imagine we were trying to convince him to start a weekly writing habit with full knowledge of the exact results it would bring to him and his career in the future.

Now imagine the argument we could formulate in that situation:

“Rob, you need to start writing on a weekly basis because it’s going to lead you to launch a successful book (which you don’t yet know you want to write) to your audience (who you don’t yet know.)”

Even with perfect knowledge, not only does this seem like a strange argument to be making, it also doesn’t sound very convincing.

This reminds me of something Steve Jobs said during his famous Stanford commencement speech:

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.

The dots definitely connected for Rob, but he would only be able to make those connections looking backwards.

The serendipitous benefits of writing will only be apparent looking backwards.

This was never as clear to me as it is now.

How can I act on this now?

By writing about why I wasn’t writing, I’ve clarified why that was the case and why I should write going forward.

I want to write because I want to refine my thoughts on certain topics.

Above all, I am interested in improving the quality of my ideas and my ability to communicate them.

I want to write in public because I value accuracy and because I appreciate the power of iteration.

In writing this essay I’m also making a public commitment to writing and I’m also proving to myself that this is now my identity, laying the foundation for lasting change in behavior.

Lastly I have a new level of appreciation that any serendipitous opportunities that may come from my public writing won’t be seen looking forwards, only looking backwards.

My April 2019 Retrospective

After reading Results: The Agile Way, I’ve decided to switch up my retro format a bit so it’s more in line with the book.

What are 3 things that went well?

  • Brought the app for my client, Axova, to a presentable level and presented it. Now waiting for their dev to get in touch with me so he can set up an API to communicate with.
  • Finished editing and launched the first RBR podcast episode. Super happy about that!
  • Shipped a Submit Coin feature for Pingcoin which allows users to submit coin recordings themselves.

What are 3 things I need to improve?

  • Exercise more. Only averaged 2x a week this month.
  • Find a new client.
  • **Private**

Although I’m happy with the progress I made in launching the RBR podcast, the Axova app and the new Pingcoin feature, I haven’t gained any ground financially this month. Next month this will really have to take center stage and I’ll either need to focus on finding a new client, or something else.

What did I not achieve and why?

I’ve been putting off setting my yearly goals since, well, the beginning of the year, because I felt tremendous resistance towards it and I didn’t feel like I had the right framework. I think after reading Results: The Agile way I’m ready to do it.

I didn’t find any additional clients because I didn’t spend much time looking

I didn’t participate in the local Basel incubator Startup Academy because so far I’ve not felt energized to go through with it.

I didn’t finish the Axova app yet because I’m dependent on their dev, who I’ve not been put in touch with yet because he’s busy.

Time Distribution

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Rapid Breakup Recovery

Key achievements

  • Published the first episode of the RBR podcast

Revenue

Ebook sales: $19

Total revenue: $19

Ebook sales have been down ever since canceling Drip and not moving to an alternative. This is a bit counterintuitive because my understanding of the analytics was that my free 7-day email course wasn’t generating much sales. Perhaps I was mistaken in that. 

Pingcoin

Key achievements

  • Launched a Submit Coin feature

Revenue

Total revenue: $0

Right now I’m waiting for people to submit coins and plan to add them to the database as soon as they do.

Monthly Planning for May 2019

  • One new client signed
  • All founding documents for the founding of my company sent to the attorney
  • ** Private outcome **