How to not renew a customer

July 12th, 2015 § Comments Off § permalink

I recently received a letter from the largest insurance company in Slovenia (which is now actually officially in strategic interests of the country). the letter was to inform me that my insurance policy was over a month ago and that they recommend renewing it or else.

i vaguely remember someone calling me some time ago and wanting to schedule a visit in the middle of the following day. i forgot to call him back, and they never followed up either. so i guess it is fair to say they tried and that it’s completely my fault that i’m leaving them.

and just before we dissect the letter, let me make it clear – it’s about renewal, i don’t owe the company anything for the contract that was valid.

but the letter. it appears they let financial and controlling department communicate with customers directly, so i had to read it three times to make sure they are not suing me for something. here are the key components:

  • subject: notice of insurance premium being overdue and cancelation of insurance contract – ok, fine, if you dont want my money, at least you are upfront with it…
  • number of the policy – “policy not vinculized” – wtf does vinculized mean???
  • “we recommend you pay the premium in 30 days” – what premium? i have no idea how much to pay, how to pay, who to address it to.
  • “we advise that you read the important information about the influence of not paying the premium on the insurance contract” – wtf?!?! what important information? where? what do you mean not paying?
  • “in the event of not paying for the next insurance period, insurance company is by law (with law citation) not obliged to pay any insurance anymore” – yeah, ok, doh. do people really think differently?
  • “in the event of not paying for the next insurance period, insurance company is by law (with law citation) canceling the contract” – yeah, ok, whatever, i’d assume it’s canceled after the final date, but ok
  • “if you already paid than please ignore this letter”

am i overreacting? is there something about insurance business i don’t know? why wouldn’t i expect them to make me feel nice and fluffy as they take the next big chunk of my money?

probably because they are incompetent and several people involved in this letter should be fired.

miracle of modern medicine

June 24th, 2015 § Comments Off § permalink

i was at a fun dinner tonight, with almost a dozen participants. at one point we were chatting about various health topics, and two things really stroke me.

1) three out of the 11 people present had laser corrective eye surgery done. that’s almost a quarter! it’s amazing how widely spread this procedure was in the group, which is of course not representative of the whole society, but at least indicative of a decent portion of it.

2) and 9 of us have kids, but four of us had kids with some kind of developmental disorder. one had cross eye issues, one had minor asperger syndrome, two had dyslexia. nothing dramatic by modern standards, but that’s only because our health system is able to detect them early on, and fix them before they even become real problems. that’s another quarter of the population represented at the table!

i can imagine even just a hundred years ago, all these problems just developing into a grow up age, rendering a decent chunk of the society somewhat impaired.

we should feel fortunate we live in a time where such problems are fixable, in society where they are systematically detected early on, and we should feel good about paying the taxes that make both of these points possible in the first place. full stop.

life milestones and employment

March 5th, 2015 § Comments Off § permalink

recently at a job interview i was caught by surprise facing a question: “how do you treat pregnancy in your company?

of course i understand where this came from, specially given that the candidate was coming from a completely different, conservative work environment, but it was still so far out of my world view that i needed two days to parse it completely.

so here’s the short answer i should have given then: “pregnancy is just another life milestone, and we are proud to enable and help our employees through any of them.” we have had a lot of our employees get first or second child, but even more often they start working with us before graduation, and the company has to put in some effort to get them over the finish line.

one of our core values in the company is personal growth. this means we feel good if our people grow, even if it has nothing to do with the company. flip side is, that we strive to enable them to grow within the company as well. we like to work with each individually to understand their ambitions and do everything we can to present them challenges that are aligned with where they want to develop.

sometimes that also means the employee leaves the company, because we can’t match their ambition. when that happens, it’s a very sad but honest moment, where the only one benefiting is the employee – they gain the freedom to pursue their dreams.

unfortunately not many people in slovenia understand that and want to cling to their jobs no matter what. we are not interested in them. we only wish to employ acomplished individuals who will leave us if we are not good enough for them anymore.

all these are just different angles of the same thing – respecting the pregnancy is the same as respecting one’s education, respecting their individual aspirations. it’s all just about respecting their freedom as a human being, and acknowledging that the employer is not in any position of power anymore. we are all partners in one stage of life.

“the articles and words on this blog do not necessarily represent the position of their author. strong sentences, especially such that describe people or companies or events are here to express an abstract point, and not to pass or enable or encourage judgement. please refrain from taking them as facts, but rather as building blocks of a story. author accepts feedback and complaints under comments and on email.”

zakaj mladina misli da je luka mesec najslabsa mozna izbira?

March 2nd, 2015 § Comments Off § permalink

“the articles and words on this blog do not necessarily represent the position of their author. strong sentences, especially such that describe people or companies or events are here to express an abstract point, and not to pass or enable or encourage judgement. please refrain from taking them as facts, but rather as building blocks of a story. author accepts feedback and complaints under comments and on email.”

mladina je pred nekaj tedni objavila cudovito predstavitev najvecjega presenecenja zadnjih volitev, in po pricakovanjih javnosti naslednjega kandidata za odresitelja druzbe. z zanimanjem sem ga prebral, ce drugega ne se povsem strinjam da moramo nehat volit ljudi ki ne zmorejo vec energije da bi bili karizmaticni. t.i. ‘mladi’ ki to niso so vsekakor boljsa izbira, ker delajo za (svojo) prihodnost.

kakorkoli, zelo zelo naklonjen portret se je zakljucil z odstavkom, ki me je izrazito negativno presenetil:

“Luka Mesec je vodja poslanske skupine Združena levica. Živi v Novih Jaršah v enosobnem, podnajemniškem stanovanju. Ko je bil mlad, ni rad hodil po domačih hribih v okolici Železnikov, recimo na Ratitovec, zdaj je drugače, ukvarja se s tekom. Pred dvema letoma je vpisal magistrski študij ekonomije. Rad gleda televizijske serije, Hišo iz kart in Borgijce. Vozi osem let star fiat stilo.”

se pravi da najboljsi kandidat mora biti izjemno skromen, ker to je druga plat postenja? ne vem no, meni se zdi da iz navedenega sledijo samo sledece moznosti:

  1. ali ni se nikoli nic konkretnega probal narest, kar zares tudi potrjuje potret, ki poudarja le teoreticni studij in aktivizem,
  2. ali je povsem nesposoben in mu ni se nic ratalo narest dovolj dobro, da bi resil svoj stanovanjski problem,
  3. ali pa zeli pokazat da nihce od nas ne bi smel met stanovanja ali novega avta, kar  je cisto ok, ceprav nepricakovana izbira glede na to da v sloveniji 90% stanovanj lastniskih, in povprecna starost avta 2 leti.
  4. mogoce pac ni imel te srece, da bi mu starsi lahko kupili stanovaje in obenem mu avto nic ne pomeni in investira v kaj drugega. super, ampak zakaj potem ni to punchline clanka?

zdi se mi da so pri mladini luki naredili bolj medvedjo uslugo s tem portretom.

we need more unemployed people

February 19th, 2015 § Comments Off § permalink

“the articles and words on this blog do not necessarily represent the position of their author. strong sentences, especially such that describe people or companies or events are here to express an abstract point, and not to pass or enable or encourage judgement. please refrain from taking them as facts, but rather as building blocks of a story. author accepts feedback and complaints under comments and on email.”

Custard-filled doughnut served by Il Fornaio, ...

Custard-filled doughnut served by Il Fornaio, St Kilda, Victoria, Australia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

there was the carnival this week on tuesday. there are two things slovenians do for the carnival: we walk around in costumes, and we eat doughnuts.

not everyone wears costumes of course, but everyone does eat doughnuts. even people who never eat them normally have one for the carnival.

now imagine walking into a bakery in the centre of the capital at 750 in the morning which advertises it sells doughnuts on the street already:

  • you: “can i have 3 doughnuts please?”
  • them: “no”
  • you: “???”
  • them: “someone bought all 60 of them”

let me restate some facts before continuing:

  • it’s the carnival, everyone will eat a doughnut
  • it’s the city centre, probably 20.000 people live and work in the immediate vicinity of this bakery
  • it’s the oldest and largest bakery company in the country, it’s a public company employing 1000 people
  • it’s not the first time they were out of stock on that location
  • they are selling doughnuts for 50 cents these days

so what’s wrong in this picture:

  • they are obviously poor at capacity planning. 60 doughnuts in the most crowded part of the country for the whole morning? even if they received some more later in the day it doesn’t really make business sense to miss the window of people going to work
  • the seller when she ran out of doughnuts did not care about the customer expectations at all. she didn’t write ‘sold out’ on the banners outside the store, she didn’t feel sorry at all, she didn’t appear to be yelling at someone ‘in the central’ to send more.

she just said no.

a goddam computer wouldn’t say no in that situation.

not doing those actions is essentially the same as stealing from the company she works for. biting the hand that feeds her. she just doesn’t care if her employer is doing a good or bad job, if it’s making or loosing money, if it’s growing or reducing staff. she probably believes these things have nothing to do with how she works and are all “up to the management”, that same management that proverbially steals from the company as well.

and there’s thousands, tens of thousands of people like that in the services sector. you meet them everywhere.

and in the meantime, there is 125.000 people unemployed in Slovenia.

But she should get fired, her manager should get fired and his boss as well. Each of them for a different type of negligence.

Bah. All i wanted was a doughnut.

should we finance all good ideas?

February 16th, 2015 § Comments Off § permalink

It seems that Slovenian society doesn’t have an agreement as to what projects should be publicly funded, so there is always pressure for more and more public financing of ‘useful’ projects, while the deficit is growing.

let’s look at the utopian approach first, let’s count how much money should the government disseminate to satisfy everything that the society produces. let’s break it down:

  • we have 2M population.
  • let’s assume that even retired and some underaged people can still participate in projects,
  • let’s assume that importing foreigners is also an option which will compensate for the ones that couldnt participate.
  • let’s also assume, that 10% of the population is capable of coming up with ideas and leading them, and that
  • average size of an ideal project is 10 members.

This means that we will have 200k active projects, which will need capital to pay for 10 member’s living expenses, and the projects’ material and program expenses. let’s say this cost structure is something like:

  • decent salary – $50k per person annually (average across the population)
  • decent baseline annual project budget is $1M (keep in mind, that this now has to include everything that public sector is already covering – from schools and hospitals to EU projects contributions and everything in between)

this means, that if the country wanted to pay for everything, the budget would have to be:

  • 2M people * $50k = $100 billion
  • 200k projects * $1M = $200 billion
  • so total budget would be $300 billion, and average project’s budget would be $1.5M

Slovenian budget is $10 billion, and the total GDP of the country is $50 billion. So this obviously won’t work.

Every time some new project expects public funding, it implicitly expects that if everyone did the same, the society would require $300 billion to function. Every time a new project is publicly demanding public funding, they are broadcasting this expectation into the general public. Every time a new project succeeds with this pressure, it sends the message that the society can afford $300 billion worth of public funding.

I believe it is crucial we form a broad agreement about what to do with this gap between ‘implied expectations’ and reality. We’ll look into that next time.

Updated Breakdown of Slovenian Budget

January 18th, 2015 § Comments Off § permalink

Years ago I did an exercise in reading and presenting a dataset as complex as a national budget. Back in 2012, this included learning a lot, as well as a lot of arm-wrestling with strange PDF’s.

Right after that, our government started publishing the budget in machine-readable formats, so now I could update the page with three more years of data in an hour. Yay for open data!

So anyways, the 2015 Slovenian budget is available in human-readable form, thanks to machine-readable export of accountants-readable original.

It’s still ugly, so take it as a mockup, and send me your ideas for how you wish the budget would be presented.

you want something done…

December 25th, 2014 § Comments Off § permalink

standard answer is ‘do it yourself’ of course, but that’s actually not correct or efficient.

as entrepreneur, you have to find ways to scale yourself / delegate. if you want to still believe tasks will be done well, you have several choices:

  • find someone who has done it before. a professional, who will not waste anyones time. usually expensive but predictable.
  • find someone between 15-25 years old, who is immortal and will move mountains. only works if you are able and willing to coach and mentor them, and have patience for occasional mistakes. 
  • find a professional in adjacent field, who is eager to prove herself in new space. this is hard to find, but usually decent alternative to the first one.

btw, all of these apply to yourself as well as a 3rd person – you will only be successful if your background can be explained in one of these three narrative styles.

product is a whole

December 22nd, 2014 § Comments Off § permalink

unique ability of product people is their imagination that allows them to see the whole product even before any of the parts are built or even designed. that’s what we call product vision.

if you have product vision, you can communicate it, you can rally the troops behind you, you can fundraise, you can architect the solution, you can design and build the product. if you don’t have the vision, you can still do all these things, but you will never end up with any meaningful results.

but let’s go a step further, and claim that ‘a product’ is always a compound of parts, yet it behaves as a separate entity. a product is a whole, that is greater than the sum of its parts. users like or hate the product and their experience with it, not it’s components. that’s why a product with all same or even worse components, but slightly better product marketing, usually wins, because it communicates the vision better, which enables the users to identify with it better.

because the product is a whole it’s really important to communicate the whole. especially while still in the process of building it. when i work on products, be it in my job, or for hobby, if i work alone or with a team, i always try to keep the product at “some stage of completeness”. this means that natural milestones of development could be described as ‘mini mvps’ – functional end-to-end experiences with rough edges are much easier to demo, than polished sub-components.

engineers sometimes complain that this type of simultaneous development is inefficient, because they need to switch contexts a lot. arguably, you loose some engineering speed of parts, but gain significantly in communication and understanding of the whole.

Do ask for forgiveness instead of permission

December 18th, 2014 § Comments Off § permalink

working in a fast-paced environment requires special kind of trust in a team.

the mantra “dont ask for permission, ask for forgiveness” speaks and relies on this trust. if team mates can’t forgive you for trying to do the right thing on your own, than you have bigger issues.

however, there is a flip side that is completely ignored – you do have to ask for forgiveness! if you just do something out of the ordinary, you most probably knew you will need forgiveness, and if you wait until others discover it and ask you about it, you are actually just being arrogant.