Once More, With Feeling

Start-up lessons, the importance of self-honesty, raw journals, pitching products.

Dear Readers,

I hope your entry into the new year was just what you intended — whether reflective, relaxed, jubilant, or simply relieved.

My 2022 was full of growth. What does that mean? A few visits to the Pit. A few summits to the peak. A whole lot of learning.

In 2023, my goal is to continue that journey, but with more honesty and transparency.

I’m realizing it starts with me first: honesty towards myself. We all have self-deceptions. These defense mechanisms provide us comfort.

It struck me that true self-acceptance can’t come without true self-honesty. And there are ample examples where I am not fully honest with myself:

Of course, I have been on the other extreme too — too much self-judgement of the above, feeling guilty for feeling this or doing that.

But judgement is not honesty.

Honesty is curiosity, and then awareness, acknowledgement, and accountability. Not ‘good’ / ‘bad’ labels.

Letting go of judging labels requires trusting that somewhere deep down, the self knows the path. The self sees something lovely and fulfilling about the journey and even its hardest obstacles.

This year, I hope to spend more time in dialogue with that self.

What does that mean for The Looking Glass, and what can you expect?

More raw stuff here. More exposure to the inner workings of a start-up founder’s journey. But please give me feedback. What do want to hear more of?

You might have noticed that I’ve turned on paid subscriptions. While much of my writing will continue to be free, I’m looking to hire someone part time to help me wrangle this newsletter and take care of the publishing logistics so I can put out words more regularly.

If you’ve followed me for a while and gotten something out of my writing, I hope you’ll consider subscribing. It’s $6 a month, less for a year. Consider it a gift of a fancy third-wave coffee every 4 weeks. I am highly motivated by coffee :)

With that, let’s get to some recent ideas.

Start-up Life = Hard Won Insights

Twitter version; LI version

Talking Excellence with Kunal Shah

If you don’t know Kunal, he’s a serial entrepreneur (currently building Cred, which processes about 20% of the cred card payments in India) and someone I’ve gotten to know and admire as an insatiably curious voice (just check out his Twitter). In this rooftop chat, we discuss everything from what I think about ChatGPT to the price of excellence.

Manifesto for the Data-Informed

I shared the core ideas some weeks back, but now see it beautiful rendered and with its own nifty URL: https://datamanifes.to/! I truly believe that if we all fully internalized these values, we’d see the productivity and creativity of organizations everywhere skyrocket.

Many thanks to Jay Mo and Deepankar Bhade for giving this page love and soul.

From the Archives: Pitching a Product Idea

Q: Our team is planning for next year. What tips do you have for how I can present my product ideas effectively to the team’s leaders so they’ll get support?

While nobody likes to admit to judging a book by its cover, there is no denying that the same product idea can be presented in a compelling way that gets a room yelling “where can I sign up to build this?” or be described in bland, uninspiring terms that leave folks wondering “What’s the point?”

Communication matters. Here are a few ideas to help communicate product ideas effectively:

Describe the problem you’re solving.

Every product should have a reason for existence and a story for why people’s lives will be better after this product comes to the rescue. But before you can talk about the superior future you want to create, you should set the stage by describing the dismal present we currently living in.

Envision the start of an infomercial, where people are stumbling around in black and white, wallowing in tears while cutting onions… because they don’t yet have the Slap Chop!

Or imagine the problem statement for ride-sharing apps: “Getting a taxi is sooo hard. How many times have you stood by the side of the road (sometimes when it’s rainy or cold outside!) holding out your arm, only to see taxi after taxi driving by already occupied? You feel annoyed, maybe anxious. You have an appointment in 20 minutes, and who knows how long this is going to take? Maybe you should drive? Ugh but parking takes forever as well, not to mention it’s expensive!”

Stories like this paint an instant picture of what people are doing today, and why today’s world isn’t ideal.

Even if you’re building products for people who aren’t like yourself, it’s important to set the stage, ideally through research. Research helps us build empathy with customers. Perhaps your products are for business users (not consumers) or people living in different countries. Gather and share stories of real people, what their lives are like, and what problem they’re having that there isn’t a great solution for. This is most powerful when you include quotes, pictures, and a clear depiction of what people are trying to do, and why it isn’t working for them.

Describe how many people have this problem.

Now that you’ve broken it down to human terms, the next step is to expand this with market research to show just how large this problem is…

Continue reading…

Daily Moments

A snapshot of 5 recent journal entries, for subscribers only.

Read more



Building Sundial. Former Product Design VP @ FB. Author of The Making of a Manager https://amzn.to/2PRwCyW. Find me @joulee. I love people, nuance, and systems.

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Julie Zhuo

Building Sundial. Former Product Design VP @ FB. Author of The Making of a Manager https://amzn.to/2PRwCyW. Find me @joulee. I love people, nuance, and systems.