The days of owning devices are over.

Hardware ownership is over

A new announcement now allows HP customers to get charged based upon the number of pages they print and not based on cartridges or refills. Why is HP moving to an “As a service” business when its printer supplies business is doing extremely well garnering $12.9 billion in sales last year? Its subscription business has now grown to 6 million users, which is a very small portion of what they had aimed for. But what happens if you do not renew the subscription or you want to use a different ink cartridge? You can cancel it but will again need to purchase a new cartridge. HP printers can detect and reject 3rd party ink and now HP instant ink. You do not “own” the ink, it belongs to HP.

As connected devices become more mainstream, it is becoming easier for manufacturers to push out over the air updates to software, add new functionalities, and enable a much convenient experience. Like Tesla, owners keep receiving new and improved functionalities on their cars. But the flip side also brings you functionalities you did not ask for. Back in 2015, Philips locked third-party manufacturer’s light bulbs from its Hue platform through an update and suddenly you can’t switch on the lights. Coffee Maker Green Mountain Coffee pioneered the use pf single-serve coffee pods, but an update rolled recently means that only their (expensive) coffee pods work with the machine.

How did we reach here? Convenience (+Budget) over Control

Even if you do own the device, you are majorly dependent on cloud services to operate them smoothly. The widespread AWS outage on Nov 27, 2020, disabled Roombas, Ring doorbells and even Christmas lights for thousands of customers.

Many new hardware powered companies now put multiple barriers – hardware and software in place to ensure only their approved supplies, components and consumables can work with their product. Then you have a dependency on updates over the air and cellular connectivity as well. Consider cases of Ferrari and Tesla being bricked due to no mobile reception underground. Rental cars unable to start in a remote area due to no cellular reception.

Security trumps transparency

Repairing your devices is a different nightmare altogether now, with only authorized service centers or authorized parts being allowed to integrate with your device. Apple, historically has frowned upon third party services from repairing your phones. But the stand-off between John Deere and tractor owners continues over who has the right to repair the devices.

The devices you use daily – TV, Laptops, Phones and Watches now can be bricked, updated and tracked remotely doesn’t matter the OS or the manufacturer. Now, its the time for all smart devices.

Update 1: Yes, iFixit and the Right to Repair movement is working towards much more open hardware, but they are still playing catchup.

Sources

  • https://instantink.hpconnected.com/uk/en/l/
  • https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2020-02-27/xerox-and-hp-are-in-a-35-billion-fight-over-ink-cartridges
  • https://www.theneura.com/the-aws-outage-and-the-need-for-offline-iot/
  • https://old.reddit.com/r/Justrolledintotheshop/comments/j914fh/dude_comes_straight_from_the_dealership_for_a/
  • https://teslamotorsclub.com/tmc/threads/software-update-bricked-my-car.163623/
  • https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/23/climate/right-to-repair.html

Why a Central Bank Digital Currency is the future

UPI hit a record 1.62B transactions in August 2020 in India as compared to 918 million transactions a year back. That implies more than a 100% annual growth rate which is phenomenal. The transaction costs are zero which has aided the growth story of UPI. Similarly, Venmo in the US has grown from 10 million to 40 million users after it has removed all transaction costs which allows anyone to send money online for free.

What was the key promise of Cryptocurrencies? Privacy, no. It was zero transaction costs for sending money. You can send an email to anyone in the world for free, in the same way, you should be able to send money to anyone in the world for free.

On 20th October 2020, IMF released a policy paper titled Digital Money across Borders: Macro-Financial Implications which is the most important policy for cryptocurrencies or the future of currency as a whole. Why?

The Bank for International Settlements estimates based on a sample of 112 countries the average total cost of sending $200 across borders is 10%. That means if the total $550B annual remittances to developed countries, $50B are only bank fees. Just take a look at the below figure

CBDC (Central Bank Digital Currency) is a digital form of fiat money issued by the central bank while GSC is issued by Big Tech (Think Libra from Facebook). Seeing the current trajectory of antitrust action against Big Tech, GSC won’t be flying off the shelves soon. Out of the major 21 advanced and 45 emerging market economies, 80% have already started work on CBDC while 40% have moved to a proof of concept. When (Not If) a CBDC is launched backed by the US Fed, European Central Bank and People’s Bank of China, the network effects will be extremely strong. In terms of powering payments for consumers and businesses, there will only be one clear winner. Similar to Google for Search, Facebook/Instagram for Social, Amazon for E-Commerce, can we have PayPal for payments ?

Look at what PayPal CEO Dan Schulman said in his interview – “We are working with central banks and thinking of all forms of digital currencies and how PayPal can play a role,”.

As far as Legal Provisions, Monetary Policy, Regulatory frameworks, Political Ambitions, they don’t progress as fast as technology. But if 186 countries can agree to the Paris Climate Agreement, it should be feasible for central banks of multiple countries to back a digital currency

If the below concerns are addressed, it won’t be long before we are on the path for such a currency, which I don’t expect till 2025

  1. Monetary Policy: The lever on interest rates can control inflation and economic growth should remain as powerful. Central Banks should be able to lend money and buy bonds as before
  2. Criminal Activities/Legal Implications: Similar to how bank accounts can be frozen, digital currencies should be allowed to be frozen as well. As digital currency can be tracked easily, this can work in the favor. Cryptocurrencies do not have a good track record on safety keeping as well as compared to banks
  3. Political Motivation: The key Achilles heel, if it becomes a dominant economic force, multiple countries will need to have a say in the direction of it, which can be extremely difficult and tricky.
  4. Technology: Who will be developing, maintaining and addressing bugs in the digital currency. In case of any hack or bug, it can result in complete economic wreckage
  5. Basket: The digital currency needs to be linked to a stable currency or a basket of currency at the start. If you require the support of multiple central banks, then what would be the ratio of the basket of currencies

This next stage of Cryptocurrency is bound to impact every segment of our economy. Only time will tell whether the above predictions will come true.

Link to IMF Policy Paper – https://www.imf.org/~/media/Files/Publications/PP/2020/English/PPEA2020050.ashx

Email Automation Sequences

About 3.8B people have used email at least once in 2019

I have written about personalized emails before, but never really covered about the state of email automation. Companies of all states and sizes send automated emails that get triggered when you complete an action on their website or app. User signups forgot passwords, abandoned carts, shop purchases, deals of the week, newsletters, rights issues, account statements, social media updates – every app or website will utilize email automation to a large degree.

Email Automation Sequences are complex workflows that trigger personalized emails to customers based upon triggers and conditions

Just recall a recent service that you have been using and how many emails you receive from them. Be it a simple webinar that you have signed up for. The sequence will look like the below

  1. Welcome email after when you register
  2. Reminder email before a day
  3. Reminder email before an hour
  4. The webinar is currently ongoing –
  5. If you did not attend, join our next webinar
  6. If you did attend, an upsell or a survey about their product
  7. After 3 months, we have another webinar for you

7 Emails just for a 1-hour webinar. Why? Because people engage with it. It’s your primary identity bigger than any of your social media handles. Now similarly, recall when you sign up for a service or complete a product purchase – at the backend multiple email sequences are always running – pushing you to the next step, reminding you to take action, informing you about their new product and service

Just how complex are these email sequences ?

Detailed email sequence for an e-commerce firm
Another Email sequence for e-commerce companies

Email continues to be the most direct way to reach customers, not Facebook, not Instagram, and not Twitter.

Which is why there are hundreds of email automation service providers catering to companies of all shapes and sizes. If you are looking out for more templates for motivation, just visit Autopilot HQ – you have email automation sequences for SaaS, subscribers, follow-up emails, split AB email tests – close to 155 different types of email automation sequences available.

The importance of having a drip campaign is well known to all marketers – even if the first cold email does not work, the second one might or the third one after 2 months will definitely work. If your KPI involves increasing customer signups and reducing churn, check out the below automated examples

Re-Engage: Check this email from Asana for users who have not logged to win back customers who have not logged in for a long time

Upsell at different points in the customer journey – Vimeo does a good job of it

Win-Back after Cancellation

Abandoned Cart: Very necessary to have to push the customer along the journey

Welcome Email along with free + Upsell:

Webinar Reminder

How to start incorporating in your website?

The plethora of options available for email automation sequences is bound to confuse newcomers and experienced professionals alike. That is why I have a written a quick guide to choose the best option based on your requirement

  1. eCommerce on Shopify, Woocommerce, Bigcommerce, etc – < 10K customers

    Do not try to go for fancy alternatives, just look at their respective app stores, and choose the most popular email platform app available. It will save you tons of time and resources with access to ready-made templates.

  2. Blogging – WordPress

    Sendpress, Mailpoet, and Mailchimp remain the best options available. If you are creating a paid newsletter publication, take a look at Substack which will fulfill all your requirements quickly.

  3. Bootstrapped SaaS Firm < 50K emails a month

    This remains the most competitive category as companies want to lockin the company with the pricing usually per customer. Some of the available options get expensive quickly once you get outside their free tier but if you are a new company, it’s just simpler to rent rather than build.
    Autopilot, Omnisend, Intercom, Mailchimp, Hubspot, Campaign Monitor are just few of the companies competing for this space. My favorite option would be Intercom due to integrated chat and email to quickly resolve customer queries. But for complex user onboarding, I would prefer Autopilot. Be prepared to shell out close to $150/month for an email platform at this size with integrations for SMS, Chat and CRM.

  4. SaaS Firm < 2M emails a month

    At this stage, you will be probably spending hundreds of dollars on your email campaigns. Depending upon your ROI you might be looking for some cheaper options to cut costs. See no further than Amazon SES – 2.5 lakh reliable emails at less $50/month. But you might have to manually set up email sequences and code API for the same which is time-consuming.
    Sendy (one time fee of $59) + Amazon SES – becomes your most preferred option now. Check out this blog post for more options

  5. Self-hosted Newsletters

    If you have huge email lists > 1M subscribers and are planning to go for mass email campaigns, then Amazon SES + Moonmail remains the best option for you to get started. $5/month and $1/10K emails is a great way to start your email campaigns
  6. Enterprise Firms

    Marketo, Pardot and Adobe Campaign – Large firms who are looking for dozens of customizations, run multiple campaings and have a team of marketers

Sidenote: Good email copy is a great website if you are looking for motivation on how to write great email content and pageflows if you are looking for beautifully designed newsletters

Do share your thoughts on email automation sequences below

Why a CSS Kit made $500K in 3 days!

CSS Kit makes $500K

And that too the early access version!

Everyone must have used a template in their professional careers- may be for creating a deck, a video, or a website. Companies have their own standard decks which serve as a great starting point for any newcomer. Software Developers use all kinds of starting programming starting points – Ruby on Rails, Laravel, WordPress, ASP.NET, no project these days starts from scratch. Why? To save time and resources, it’s better to build on top of other’s work which will get you to Launch Day faster.

Tailwind CSS is an open-source framework to build apps and websites faster currently being used by close to 50,000 for developers at last count. (Bootstrap counts 1.6M users). You only need to view the gif below to understand what it does and how massively useful it is for everyone.

from Tailwind CSS website

Its creator Adam Wathan has been working on the project for free since the past 3 years to make it more and more useful for all developers and decided to create two modules for UI components, pre-existing code for the most common elements costing $149 for a module and $249 for both modules. It was a massive success post-launch with Adam Wathan netting $500K within a short span of 3 days. But beyond the headlines, it took him 3 years of hard work to reach there. Why were people ready to pay for something even if it was not fully finished yet? Just due to the massive promise it holds to save their time at a later date which is more important than the $250 being asked for. (Avg Rate – $35/hour, even if it saves them 7 hours – its worth it). I’m sure that lifetime savings would be far far greater than that

What interested me the most was the demand for templates and UI kits across. Consider Avada Theme, since its inception it has grossed close to $35M in revenue so far for the past 8 years with close to 600K sales. This is not the theme or UI Kit, there are hundreds of others making millions annually from Codecanyon.net. Even Mitron App, the supposedly Made in India app by IIT student, has been brought for just $34 from Codecanyon. Consider Grocery App, any restaurant can get the entire source code for restaurant delivery app for $60 with iOS App, Andriod App, payments, signups, Google Maps, Dashboard built on. How much? $80. You only just need to look for it. Want to build a light custom app for video meetings, chat, note-taking, music players? – you will find the entire source code which you use legally for under $100.

It might be the reason why now you have thousands of apps available on the App Store. You can launch any app you wish for $100 and 1 week of development time. 🙂 You can even launch your own coronavirus tracker website and app for $20 now.

Coming back to Tailwind UI. It’s not the only kit available on the market, there are hundreds of other templates for which puts on the fast-track to develop great looking apps and websites in no time!

The low-code and no-code movement will be adopted by developers first and then by marketers.

Codecanyon screenshot

The market size for these remains very hard to quantify because of the range of items available to purchase. Some consider it on a range of $10B to $20B but others peg it below $1B. Envato (Company behind Codecanyon) is on track to do $1B in revenue annually from its digital creators with strong growth.

If you are an entrepreneur, you don’t really need to code an app or website to launch something. Just buy something from the sheer number of plugins, themes, kits, scripts, solutions, templates available on the market. Not considering the sheer number of builders and SaaS services out there, the differentiator has now shifted more from coding to selling your service better. Let me know what you think in the comments below

Side Note: During my time as a front-end developer, it is always much cheaper to buy than build. Investing in a theme or starter kit if will save you countless hours later on. Still a golden time to be a creator.

What I am excited about in 2020 and 2021

Technology shifts at breakneck speed with new products being released every day, new patents being registered every day. Very few of them eventually see the light of the day and fewer make a mark on the world. 2019 for me was the year of voice-enabled speakers, machine learning, and multi-camera phones.

Although 2020 has turned out to be the year of coronavirus with remote working (Slack, Teams and Zoom) and contact tracing apps occupying the most mindshare yet the year is not over yet. There are several promising technologies that I am keeping a close watch on which can move to become giant ecosystems in themselves. These can be companies, products, open-source technologies, hardware platforms, new tech-enabled business models, but something that drastically alters the way people and businesses live and thrive. Although each warrants its own blog post due to its potential, seeing it all come together gives you a fair idea about where the world is heading.

1. No-code / Automation tools

Excel is the tool that kickstarted the no-code revolution enabling millions of people to create quick automation tools for carrying out simple tasks – Data Entry, Expense Management, Quote Generation, etc. It is bound to be around long after we will be gone with the way it has ingrained itself in people’s lives with many schools teaching it as a mandatory course. No-Code and Automation tools enable non-programmers to quickly build apps without writing a single line of code. Zapier is the best example for the same with an ARR of $35M, a 20X revenue multiplier would imply a valuation of $700M. This is for a tool that does simple tasks like saving your email attachment to Dropbox.
Tray.io, Integromat, Appgyver, Appsheet, Airtable, Bubble, and tens of others are trying to capture what Zapier and IFTTT have built. Let’s see what the next year has in store for them

Example of a no-code automation builder

2. GraphQL and Strapi and …

GraphQL is a query language for APIs and a runtime for fulfilling those queries with your existing data. In layman’s terms, it reduces the developer effort of writing custom API by a large amount with having to describe the data structure only once. Facebook and multiple tech giants are using GraphQL in production today. With tools like Strapi and Hasura, building out an API has never been easier today. I am pretty sure this is a technology which is here to stay

Side-note: Building an app has never been easier today, with hundreds of no-code, e-commerce, and automation platforms, I expect a lot of simple SaaS apps to be launched now. This is a nice list of these apps

3. Oculus Quest

Virtual reality has been hyped for too long now. But Oculus Quest might be able to finally get it right. With a low price point, hundreds of games and apps on the platform, and COVID-19 pandemic it has already started selling out. Having used it before, I can say the experience is extremely good and this can be the next big gaming moment. Virtual collaboration using https://immersedvr.com/ might be a good usage of the technology

Screenshot of Oculus Quest

4. LoRA

LoRA is a long-range (10km +) low power sub-gigahertz radio frequency protocol useful for battery-powered IoT devices transmitting small amounts of data. Although this technology has been flying below the radar, yet thousands of sensors are being manufactured with LoRA capability with a number of deployments taking place. New low power chipsets are being developed actively with LoRA now being used for utility metering in India, smart parking, reindeer tracking, sea turtle monitoring the usage for the same are endless. You only need to take a look at https://lora-alliance.org/showcase to understand the broad usage of this technology and subsequent platforms and deployments possible in all areas of life

Screenshot of LoRaWAN Certified Devices

5. FPGA

Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) are semiconductor devices that are based around a matrix of configurable logic blocks (CLBs) connected via programmable interconnects. FPGAs can be reprogrammed to the desired application or functionality requirements after manufacturing. FPGA is a big deal, as they can be reprogrammed until the ASIC or processor design is final and bug-free. Intel acquired eASIC as a way to accelerate its designing and prototyping process. Imagine being able to work at the chipset level to create dedicated chips for AI, Image processing, Video streaming, the possibilities are endless. Market size is estimated to be close to $10B
This is a good article explaining the potential about FPGA

6. Netflix for Games

Pay X dollars per month, get access to hundreds of games, streaming, and an ecosystem. With Playstation and XBOX soon to launch their new consoles and Google Stadia already out in the wild, everyone will try to get as many subscribers and titles to their platforms and create lock-in.

GeForce Now has a small library of just over 400 excellent games

7. Windows for Linux

Microsoft has doubled down on its efforts on Linux and open-source to ensure its as easy to deploy enterprise apps on Azure as it is on Linux. Their new Terminal for Windows 10 works almost similar to any Linux terminal which appeals to the developer community to a large extent. Microsoft has been appealing to developers like never before having missed the App Store revenue stream, it does not want to be left behind for whichever new platform will come.

More developers -> more apps -> larger platform -> more Windows licenses -> more Azure servers -> more enterprises sign up

8. Animation Engines

I have covered the Unreal Engine can become the AWS of Gaming but the trend to bring animation tools and engines by the likes of James Cameron and Disney is slowly making its way to the hands of new creators with a tight budget. Expect a lot of innovations in this area to bring the creation of animation to everyone. Case in point – Pose Animator. I expect a lot of YouTube Creators to start using these new technologies.

9. Notion

Notion describes itself as an all-in-one workplace for notes, documents, wikis, projects, and tasks. It claims it is the missing piece for Slack. ( I had written about office collaboration tools before). With remote work being the new normal Notion’s usage has exploded in popularity. It is already a unicorn with $2B valuation

Have I missed out any worthwhile technology that can potentially change industries? Do let me know in the comments

The AWS of Gaming – Unreal Engine

Unreal Engine

Before starting the blog post, just take a look at this video

Unreal Engine 5 Announcement

The level of complexity achieved is astonishing, a single statue in the video contains 33 million triangles, the unreal engine demo as a whole contains a rendering of billions of triangles. Second, lighting which is a crucial component that gives depth or equivalence of a 3D is now powered by Lumen, a global illumination system that can work from millimeters to kilometers. If you look closely, the lighting source change affects the entire scene almost instantly.

Don’t fret if you have never heard of Epic Games, They started first by making games but later on moved to license their core infrastructure (Unreal Engine) which helps developers make games faster as well. The company last valued at $15B is growing by leaps and bounds now with major titles like Gears of War, Fortnite, Tom Clancy, Batman-Arkham City, Borderlands, Mortal Kombat, Dragon Ball Fighter, Street Fighter and hundreds of other games. The Unreal Engine now powers games build on all platforms – future and current, iOS, PS5, XBOX Series X, Windows, OSX which lets developers focus on building the game itself.

The new announcement also reduced the license cost for all developers with no royalties until $1M of sales have been generated after which 5% will be charged. If the game is sold via Epic Games Store, no royalty fees will be charged. Epic Games also launched its Platform service allowing developers to build real-time games like Fortnite giving it out for free.

What excites me the most is the usage of Unreal Engine for real-time in-camera VFX –

Previous versions of the Unreal Engine have been used in video games as well as films and television. Disney used the Unreal Engine, for instance, to create 3D environments and landscapes in The Mandalorian. Technology like LED walls and game engines allow production to “travel” to new locations without ever leaving a sound stage. A future is not far where filmmakers will never have to leave their studio to shoot a film. This can potentially save millions of dollars in production for film-makers.

In 2007, architecture firm HKS used a previous iteration of the Unreal Engine to produce a virtual environment of the new Dallas Cowboys stadium that clients could virtually walkthrough. As Hurricane Florence ravaged the Eastern seaboard, dangerous storm surge towered over a meteorologist – only she was safe inside a studio.

UK-based Pharmaceutical research firm C4X Discovery recently starting using Unreal Engine technology to visualize and manipulate 3-D molecules in virtual reality, with the potential to let scientists collaborate remotely in the virtual environment. But Virtual Reality is still a very growing niche with the technology not yet fully developed which makes sense for developers to use Unreal Engine as no royalties until the first million dollars in sales. Unreal Engine will sure power the games and applications built on VR as the people start to buy more headsets and developers build games on it.

Unreal Engine is slowly building out to becoming the AWS for Animation Engines. Epic Games is surely poised to reap the benefits, be it from developing games, royalties from its game engine, its game store, real-time in-camera VFX, virtual walkthroughs, etc

Did I miss something out? Do let me know in the comments below

Personalized Images in Emails

Email personalization has been around for a long time which ranges from having a simple placeholder for $name to more complex fields like showing recommended items based upon last purchase. In email marketing terms, is it known as dynamic fields that can be populated based upon personal data, behavioral data, professional data, social data, CRM data or other custom data sources of a particular subject. Why is email personalization so important? Studies have shown just have personalized subject lines can give you 26% higher open rates while revenue from rich relevance is 5.7 times higher than normal. Inserting image-based countdown timers resulted in a 5x higher total open rates than average.

Great tips & hacks of basic email personalization are:
> “From name & email” to reflect the name of account manager
> Adding first name of the customer to the subject line of the email
> Dynamic Images based upon location of customer
> Dynamic Images and CTA based upon gender and buyer journey

Example of a dynamic email system built upon Spotify and CampaignMonitor
An example of a personalized image inside an email

One case study from lemlists got them a 57% click-through rate for a survey. Now that is something big to talk about. According to them, it was inserting a dynamic logo and name inside an image which got them to such a higher click-through rate

Another great example I have seen in the wild of the best cold emails is by T-Shirt company Ramp Tshirts. They emailed close to 50,000 companies offering their services with a dynamic image of their CEO wearing a T-Shirt of the recipient company logo. Open rates above 50% and CTR rates were >25%. Their technical breakdown does cover the essential sources of using Hunter to capture email addresses, Clearbit to find the Logos and placeit.net to create the image previews.

Unlike Ramp Tshirt which had to rely on their own inbuilt system for providing dynamic images, you have various startups which provide you a quick service to create personalized emails on the fly

  1. Nifty Images: The pioneer in the space, you can create merge tags and countdown timers very easily using their service. Their pricing starts at $20/month for 50K opens which is a great ROI for the result which you would be getting. It can also support dynamic locations which can be useful for companies trying to get people in the nearest stores
  2. Lemlist: Lemlist is another great service to create personalized images and videos. It lets you create personalized cold emails at scale and can connect easily through Zapier, Gmail, SMTP, and Exchange. For $30/month with 100 emails a day is high ask but should be worth the trouble
  3. Hyperise: A recently launched tool that offers plenty of features to choose from to create personalized emails. It can connect well with existing tools that we use and at $30/month for a 1000 image impressions is well worth the ROI
  4. Marketo, Pardot, Adobe, MailChimp, CampaignMonitor (& 100 others) – These are the big email marketing platforms which offer a lot more impressive features and dynamic personalizations
An example of a dynamic image using Hyperise

A note on Dynamic (AMP) Emails

Ever since Gmail announced the launch of dynamic (or AMP) emails it has got the attention of all digital marketers. With dynamic emails, you can finally take action right in the inbox and not be redirected to an external website. It can be as simple as RSVP to a particular event, save a pin right in email or even browse relevant hotel bookings in Oyo Rooms

Emails have long been just a static piece of information that can get outdated pretty fast, this technique would ensure that emails are relevant and current.