Our Top 5 Longreads of 2015

1. When one app rules them all: The case of WeChat and mobile in China

This “ethnographic primer” by Connie Chan on WeChat isn’t just about the messaging app, but about what it reveals about business in China, transactional vs. social networks, and what’s possible when an entire ecosystem leapfrogs PC to mobile. The essay won a 2015 Sidney Award from The New York Times‘ David Brooks for “brilliantly marry[ing] psychology, intellect, and technology” and providing a “glimpse of technology’s next face”. While the piece is indeed difficult to summarize (as Tyler Cowen noted), here’s a short excerpt:

monmon_a16zPut it all together, and you can get some pretty creative results… Parents can use the Mon-Mon official account in WeChat to send personal voice messages and pre-recorded English courses or bedtime stories to the toy while they are at work or traveling…. While this is just a toy — and funnily enough, a character that started off as a popular digital sticker on WeChat! — it shows the potential of integrating messaging platforms into the physical world when all the parts of the buffalo, er, smartphone are utilized.

2. U.S. tech funding — What’s going on?

Described by Paul Graham as the “deepest statistical analysis” he’s ever seen of startup funding trends, this slide deck by Morgan Bender, Benedict Evans, and Scott Kupor shares an argument against a tech bubble given the new realities of market size and other factors. The deck also discusses unicorns and the rise of quasi-IPOs, the shifting mix of public and private capital including VC, and why “it’s different this time” (hint: mobile).

See also these articles for more/different/other views related to the deck: Fortune, DealBook, New York TimesBloomberg View, DigitopolyQuartz.

3. Making sense of Dell + EMC + VMware

The largest tech merger in history (in acquisition size, amount of debt, as a take-private, etc.) was announced this year between Dell and EMC. Our corp dev team broke down the deal, analyzing not just the financial details and stock market reactions but the broader context as well, such as the role of activist investors, cloud computing shift, and more. But why should we even care about this deal? Because,

[It] points the way to the future of many large public incumbent technology companies. Many tech industry incumbents are stalling — in revenue growth, in investor interest, in strategic position — and something has to give. This deal is a new way for something to give.

4. The zero b.s. method to recruiting, compensating, and including your sales force

Together, these three pieces by Lars Dalgaard offer a data-driven view — whether it’s data from a W-2 or data from customers in the field — on hiring and motivating your sales force…

On how a spreadsheet (vs. descriptive attributes) cuts through the bullshit and leads to a more productive interview conversation:

All sales reps can cherry-pick and make their many deals sound very impressive, and you will not be able determine whether the person just got lucky a couple of years. Let the spreadsheet show vs. tell their average and median deal size. You will find it often paints a different picture than the one people highlighted on the outside.

On being careful to ask for just two things, not more, when aligning expected outcomes:

The CEO/leadership team needs to make up its mind about what it is they want most, whether it’s net new sales, bigger deal size, or deals with new products. This is very counterintuitive for many founders since it’s the opposite of the entrepreneurial mindset, where you believe everything is an AND not an OR.

On having a more inclusive — as opposed to a “coin-operated idiots” — mindset about sales:

…it relegates salespeople only to the field or to the phone, when they really should be considered part of the company leadership. Not this decapitated thing you “slot onto” your organization when you need to. Include sales in product management meetings, executive meetings, any meeting where the product roadmap is being discussed. It’s the only way to strike the balance between abstract vision and concrete truth.

5. Lessons from the PC video game industry

If “the future is already here, just not very evenly distributed” where, then, can we find it? History shows there are characteristic patterns, and one such clue to the future, argues Chris Dixon, is to

…look for communities that embrace rapid, Darwinian experimentation. Experiments are how we collectively navigate through the startup idea maze to discover products and business models that work. Even if you have no interest in video games, you should be interested in PC gaming. Over the past decade, PC gaming has, for a variety of reasons, become a hotbed of experimentation. These experiments have resulted in a new practices and business models  – some of them surprising and counterintuitive –  that provide valuable lessons for the rest of the media industry.