A birthday reminder

And the one job in my life that Facebook was actually good for

It was my 35th birthday yesterday.

A wonderful friend and subscriber to this newsletter (hey Andrew!), upon wishing me happy birthday, pointed out that because I’m not on Facebook he nearly forgot. This strange quiet job Facebook has been doing for us, as we leave in droves, is dying.

In the heady early days of Facebook there seemed to be healthy competition for who would get the most birthday messages on their big day. It was also a nice extra dopamine hit alongside the real-life celebrations with close friends and family. Alas. No more can it be relied on as the source of truth for who to congratulate and when.

I’ve not existed on Facebook for a couple of years now, and hadn’t logged in for a couple of years before that.

My birthday messages, therefore, dried up. But more than that, I now can’t find out when my friends’ birthdays are without either asking them or finding out through others, which is awkward because I really should know by now.

So instead I miss my friends birthdays. And then I feel bad. (Incidentally, I tweeted about my birthday this year, which helped. I think everyone should do that.)

Sometime last year another good friend (Hi Alick!) shared with me his idea of a ‘birthday reminder’ app.

This app would, in a lightweight doodle-esque way, allow me to share a link with friends and family for them to add in their birthdays, and in exchange they’d get mine. Then each of us might get a daily or weekly digest of who’s birthdays we should prepare for with gifts or messages on the day.

Alick had hacked together this app with Google sheets and was using it with his family. It turns out, it’s still going! The family love it.

“Oh, I’d leave Facebook but…”

Instagram, to take another example, is a great curated photo album. I rarely use Instagram now, but I can still scroll back through my posts and be reminded of some of my favourite moments from the last decade. I don’t actually need the likes, the messaging, the videos or stories. I frankly don’t need to see anyone else’s content.

I wonder, which other small jobs and simple interactions from apps like Facebook and Instagram are truly valuable? Which are just the product of companies seeking engagement and generating dopamine hits?

As we reject open social media and become more private again, what will we take with us? What would we pick from their bones if we shut them down?

Anyway. I’m going to take Alick’s setup, give it a go and see if I can make it work for me too. No more forgetting birthdays.

If anyone else wants to try it, he’s happy to share. Just hit reply and I’ll hook you up.

486/500 words.

Thanks for reading this, one of my regular musings on building products, work-life balance, life as a founder and moving from designer to early-stage CEO and onwards. I expect that while I find a rhythm the content may jump around a bit, so please bear with me. You can also find me on Twitter and some older/longer writing on jonnyburch.com.

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If you’ve found this interesting, please share it with a friend or hit reply with your thoughts, feedback and questions I can answer in future newsletters.

Love it or hate it?

On Marmite and first time user experiences.

This week while doom-scrolling Twitter I found — amongst the tech bro hot takes and Brexit/covid/Trump fall-out — a popular tweet from an American VC professing his love for Marmite.

I’ve always loved Marmite, having been eating this curious savoury yeast spread on cheap white toast since I can remember. With parents who saw expiry dates as a mere suggestion and given Marmite is indestructible, it was often the safest option in the cupboard.

But Marmite is a divisive snack. Sometime in the nineties, an advertising whizz at DDB recognised that not everyone thought it was so great and created the ‘You Either Love It Or Hate It’ strap-line, which Marmite continues to very successfully market itself with today.

Is it actually true though? Over-exposure to marketing would make it very difficult to find out here in the UK - after all ‘it’s like Marmite’ is very much in the national lexicon.

Our American friends, however, haven’t been subjected to nearly as much Marmite advertising as we have here. So to see plenty of US Twitter accounts sharing similar stories in the comments got me hooked. One of the biggest themes I saw emerge was around a misunderstanding of how to actually apply Marmite to toast.

So many haters had just prepared their Marmite wrong!

Spread Marmite on too thick or eat it out of the jar like chocolate spread and any chance of your first Marmite experience being a good one goes out of the window. But have your first Marmite thinly scraped over a generous layer of butter by a true Marmite fan and you’re in with a great chance of a snack-piphany.

It’s all about crafting that first experience. Controlling the variables, steering away from traps and aiming for that first ‘Aha!’ moment which creates a new Marmite lover out in the world.

So far this year I’ve joined via Zoom as over a dozen people have started their Progression teams, with more to come as we continue to test and learn.

Some of the interviews were — frankly — disasters. A handful of times I knew that if they hadn’t been on a call with us they would have given up several times over. But with a few helpful words here and a more sensible default there, disasters could have been averted.

Just like that Marmite expert telling you to put a third as much on your knife, we needed to be steering them better towards the best first few minutes they could possibly have.

I’ve been a designer for well over a decade now, you’d think I’d know this. Yet every single time I’m reminded what an endlessly challenging yet fascinating process it is to create simple, intuitive and engaging products that deliver the value they promise, efficiently.

Any product can fall very easily into love it or hate it territory. It’s on us to recognise and deliver value — and to do it within minutes or even seconds.

494/500 words.

This is the first of what I hope to be regular musings on building products, work-life balance, life as a founder and moving from designer to early-stage CEO and onwards. I expect that while I find a rhythm the content may jump around a bit. You can also find me on Twitter and some older/longer writing on jonnyburch.com.

If you’ve found this interesting, please share it with a friend or hit reply with your thoughts, feedback and questions I can answer in future newsletters.

Introducing the 500 word founder: Concise regular ramblings of an early stage tech CEO

Welcome to The 500 Word Founder by me, Jonny Burch.

I’m a designer and first time tech founder from London, UK. In late 2018 I founded Progression, a tech company focused on helping teams to build and share career ladders and progression frameworks. I’ve since bootstrapped the company to profitability, found a great co-founder, helped teams across the globe and raised a seed round on Zoom during a bonkers 2020. I’m sure I’ve already forgotten thousands of learnings and mistakes that I’d rather have written down and been able to reflect on. So that ends now.

After semi-regularly writing on my blog through 2018 and 2019 then skipping 2020 (I’d like to blame the world, but I just got out of the habit), this year I’ll be aiming to write this regular short newsletter primarily to enforce reflection but also to share any lessons that I learn as we continue to build and grow our company.

To further encourage me to write, I’m keeping it short (max 500 words) and regular (weekly?). An easy 2 minute scroll with a cup of tea.

I’ll aim to cover:

  1. Challenges and honest updates from life as a founder and CEO

  2. Work vs life and maintaining both

  3. Observations on tech in general, trends and predictions.

I’ll be keeping tech bro philosophy to an absolute minimum.

So join me and keep me accountable as I build this habit.

(This one’s 277 words, by the way.)


P.s. I’ve been inspired by and would fully recommend the words of my friends Dave Bailey (short, actionable), Toby Mather (Honest and thoughtful, CEO perspective) and Anne Laure Le Cunff (regular as clockwork, keep turning up!)

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