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 BLOG >> June 2020

Product Testing [Entrepreneurship
Posted on June 23, 2020 @ 07:19:00 AM by Paul Meagher

I find Project Farm videos informative and ingenious. The videos often involve testing to see which product aimed at solving the same problem is the best. The latest video I watched tests which step drill bit is the best.

In this particular video, the tester does not just use one test to establish which step bit is the best, but conducts a few rounds of testing, with certain step bits not advancing to the next round of testing because they performed poorly in less stressful rounds of testing. If they don't perform well under weaker tests, they are not worth testing in harder tests.

Many of us don't need the best product if it is quite expensive and we are only likely to use it infrequently. We might be looking for the best value for money and this video ends with two recommended step drill bits - the best one based on all the testing, and a good bit based on all the testing that is less expensive.

It is interesting that the consumer marketplace sells so many inferior products often at inflated prices, usually because they are associated with a brand name we trust. It seems like most tool manufacturers need to have their own brand of step bit and some require that the product meet a high level of quality while others apparently just want to have an offering in the market.

Project Farm videos are worth watching because they offer lessons in how we might test products to see which ones are the best. As an entrepreneur developing a new product, we might want to do similar testing on a new product against its nearest competitors to see exactly how it stacks up against competing products.

On my farm, I've been creating blueberry wine and creating some variants by adding a bit honey or maple syrup to add to the finish. My testing has involved comparing plain blueberry wine with the same blueberry wine with varying levels of honey or maple syrup added. While this is useful testing to do, I realize now that I need to be blind taste testing my wines against blueberry wines made by other wineries to see how it compares. Testing to improve you product needs to eventually give way to testing against other products in the same category.

Success might be gauged by the fact that your product is better than your competitors; however, that fact alone does not mean your product will sell more or be more profitable. The best step bit is also the most expensive - perhaps too expensive for most people and they may end up buying an inferior product that ultimately generates more revenue and is more profitable than the best product. This is where packaging, branding, distribution and pricing decisions come into play and also determine the success of your product. In the case of wine where the differences in taste are often barely noticeable, packaging, branding, distribution and pricing might matter even more.

Often entrepreneurs are in a position where they are developing a new product and may not have direct competitors. To test novel ideas developing a Minimal Viable Product (MVP) is often advised so that you can begin gathering information about whether the assumptions you are making about how people will respond to your product are correct or not.

When seeking funding, it is important to derisk your idea by identifying as many of the assumptions you are making and subjecting as many of them to testing as you can. To do exhaustive testing of all your assumptions can be very costly in time and money so you will probably have to focus on testing the most critical assumptions first. Often it is this testing that is paid for by friends and family and income from your other job. Getting some of your assumptions tested through a minimal viable product, questionaires and surveys, early sales, letters of intent, a demo, comparative testing, etc... is often what makes your project ready for investment by people other than friends and family. Private investors often shoulder more risk than banks might, but they are still very attuned to the level of risk involved, what assumptions are being made and whether they have been tested sufficiently or not. In my case, if I were to do comparative testing of my wines against other wines in the same category, and the results came out positive, that would derisk investment into my blueberry wine business either from my own funds or from investor funds.

Today's blog is about the importance of product testing. It is important in coming up with a quality product that people will love to use, to create the branding, packaging, distribution and pricing that will make people want to buy it, and it can also help derisk your project for investors if you have done some testing of the most critical assumptions.

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Production Systems and Chunking [Psychology
Posted on June 10, 2020 @ 11:24:00 PM by Paul Meagher

A primary mechanism that drives learning is a process called "chunking".

If you haven't encountered the concept of chunking before you might want to consult the wikipedia page on Chunking.

My interest in chunking was reignited because I've been (re)learning server technologies as part of the lead up to my recent server upgrade. I was interested in exploring how theories of chunking might be applied to what I was experiencing and learning.

There is considerable trial and error involved in getting servers and software working together. There are times when you can be working on a problem for 2 or 3 hrs trying to figure out how to get something to work and suddenly some path leads to a working solution. Once it works, then you can setup the same solution on another server in much less time. You've built up a chunk of expertise. As you build up these chunk of expertise your overall level of expertise rises.

The buildup of expertise can occur at a cognitive level like this chunk, or it can be happening beneath your awareness (i.e., implicit learning). In a study of cigar rollers, they found that the speed of cigar rolling increases according to a power law - speed up occurs most at the beginning and continues to improve with time on task. There may be discontinuities in speed up if new techniques are consciously employed initially to overcome some limitation in technique.

In Allan Newell's theory of chunking (as expressed in Unified Theories of Cognition 1990), a chunk is built around an impass. You bang your head on a problem for awhile and if you figure it out you can potentially create a "production" that takes as input your problem state and goal, and welds that information into an action to take, namely, the action you took to overcome the impass. Symbolically, a production has this form:

If State + Goal THEN Action.

In John Laird, Allen Newell, and Paul Rosenbloom's SOAR model, chunking plays an important role of converting declarative knowledge into procedural knowledge. The power of chunking comes from that fact that chunks can be organized hierachically. Lower level chunks (O V E L) can be combined into a singular higher level chunk (L O V E). If I give you list of random letters to remember, if you can break that list into higher level chunks of meaningful information you can recall many more letters in that list.

Most of the chunking we do takes place beneath our awareness at a very low level. The level at which we operate as adults builds upon a foundation of low level chunking we do in childhood. Over time the chunks that we are aware of in our problem solving are at a higher and higher level.

The view that chunking can be realised in software as a system of productions is a very powerful idea coming out of Carnagie Mellon, where Allan Newell, Herb Simon and John R. Anderson were some prominant proponents. Herb Simon also won the Nobel Prize in economics and applied some of these ideas to how to think precisely about firms.

One way you could model a firm is as a production system consisting of a dynamic set rules that fires off certain actions when certain goals and situational states occur. What happens when that production system encounters an impasse such as the present coronavirus situation where you still have the same goals but the states of the system are changed and the available actions are changed?

To overcome an impass humans often use declarative knowledge to building new chunks of expertise, ideally building up those chunks quickly to adapt quickly. Many will be faced with the decision of whether it is worth learning new chunks of expertise in the current industry or move to a new industry that may have been a sideline but becomes more of a focal point.

What about Grit and other ideas that are used to explain how high level expertise is acquired? This is where we need to retreat a bit from the view that chunking can explain all aspects of learning and say that we are only concerned with the cognitive aspect of learning and not about the emotional, motivational, and socio-economic aspects that are important drivers of learning as well. These other aspects, however, are not learning theories per se because they alone cannot perform adaptively - they need the guts of a production system chunking along as the underlying driver of adaptive performance.

In summary, the purpose of this blog is to touch on the concepts of a chunk, chunking, and production systems. These are practically useful concepts not only for thinking about how learning occurs, but also in thinking about how firms work and adapt over time.

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Emerson Edeh Warning [Site News
Posted on June 5, 2020 @ 10:46:00 AM by Paul Meagher

I have been approached on a number of occasions by entrepreneurs asking me if Emerson Edeh is a registered investor on our network. Emerson is not a registered investor. What Emerson appears to be doing is googling public information on entrepreneur proposals to find contact info and then reaching out to entrepreneurs as if he were a registered member. He might say, for example, that he saw your proposal on the ****** Investment Network and that he is interested in investing in your company.

Today, he approached an entrepreneur with this offer:

I am willing to invest the sum of US$60,000 only with you in your Lucrative investment Project, if you are still active seeking funds / investor.

If the interaction gets beyond this stage, it usually involves Emerson asking for an up front fee or some sort to secure the deal. For example, to hire a lawyer to form a company and create the loan documents.

Emerson claims to be based in Nigeria but there is no credible online information to verify his identity. An entrepreneur has reported paying an upfront fee to Emerson and he is persistently contacting entrepreneurs on this platform with investment offers so the time has come to publicly warn entrepreneurs using this platform that Emerson Edeh is not a registered investor with this network and that I am advising registered entrepreneurs against any interaction with Emerson Edeh for the purposes of obtaining funding.

If you are approached by an investor who is not on your investor contact list you can verify whether they are a registered investor by asking them for their registered email address and using our Investor Verification tool to determine if they are. Be sure they have control of the email address. If they claim to have been referred by a registered investor find out who that registered investor is and what their registered email address is. If the investor is located overseas, there is a greater need for comfort that the person you are dealing with is credible as proper due diligence can be more difficult and expensive to perform. You should also contact us if you are approached by a non-registered investor claiming some association with an investment network site.

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Server Upgraded [Site News
Posted on June 3, 2020 @ 11:51:00 PM by Paul Meagher

We ran into some issues configuring the IP addresses for the main upgrade server that caused a longer than expected downtime. The sites are up and running again and I will be doing testing over the next couple of days to make sure everything is working as before. While there are no obvious changes to the look and functionality of the websites, there has been a significant change in the server environment that has required extensive upgrades to the website software and how web/mail/security services function. If you encounter any issues please let me know via the contact form and I will look into it right away.

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Maintenance Downtime - June 3rd @ 6pm CST [Site News
Posted on June 2, 2020 @ 09:47:00 PM by Paul Meagher

A server upgrade will be happening on Wednesday June 3rd, 2020. The sites will be taken offline at 6:00 pm CST. It will hopefully take around 1 to 2 hrs after that to have the sites up again. I will provide a status update on this blog once the sites are up again.

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