How to ‘Productize Yourself’
Naval Ravikant is probably one of the biggest influences in an important phase of my life – a lot of my moral principles, decision-making, and dare I say, my general being has a tinge of ‘Navalism’ somewhere in there.
While I could go on and on about Naval’s thoughts and theories, in his own words everything he has said about wealth creation can be summarized by two words: Productize Yourself.
“Productize has specific knowledge and leverage. Yourself has uniqueness and accountability. Yourself also has specific knowledge. So you can combine all of these pieces into these two words” – Naval Ravikant
TL;DR: Find out what you are uniquely good at and figure out a way to do it at scale.
Interpreting ‘Productizing Yourself’
As a product person at heart, I’ve always been fascinated by the idea and in recent times have perhaps taken it too literally in my approach to everyday life.
At its best, this post is a brain dump of the phrase through a SaaS product-building lens and at worst, a gross misinterpretation of Naval’s synthesis.
So here it goes:
Find your North Star metric
The concept of North Star and North Star Metric in the tech-world was borrowed from the world of travel – for generations before maps and compasses, the Polaris star (also called the North Star) which is bright and stationary in the night sky was the guiding light that helped travellers stay on course, and find their way back if they ever got lost.
In the tech world, where every day is a frenzied routine of feature releases, tracking competition, moving fast and breaking things, sometimes it is easy to get too immersed into details that don’t really matter or lose sight of the bigger picture.
To ensure that the entire team is aligned on a single goal, all great companies have a North Star that drives the actions of the teams in the course of the journey.
A North Star Metric is a single number that you can hold to at any given time to evaluate if things are headed in the right direction.
Taking a leaf out of the product book, I’ve long thought about what would it mean and look like to anchor our own actions to a North Star and hold it to a North Star metric much like tech companies do?
Landing on our North Star is either the easiest or the most difficult task, depending on how much we have thought about it – for the longest time, I was under the presumption that answering the infamous ‘where would you want to be in five years?’ would lead me to my north star.
However, the breakneck speed of innovation and the resulting progeny of a staggering breadth of career opportunities means, what you will be doing 5 years from today might not even be a legit job yet! (Meme lords, anyone?)
Turns out the easiest way to land at our North Star is actually looking backwards.
This is what Naval describes as figuring out what you are a natural at and doubling down on it – an activity that feels like play to you but like work to others.
In my case, until after I had graduated I had no clue on what I was supposed to do for a living – I had a B.Com degree, couple of internships for newspapers, and had cleared the Foundational level for ACS.
But with the benefit of hindsight, I look back now and can see the writing was on the wall.
When I was 12 years old, I had to give an impromptu entrance exam for Grade 6 to help teachers understand my strengths and weaknesses.
The verdict was simple – English good. Math bad.
A pattern that’d follow all through high school where I’d jump at the chance to submit essays, give extempore presentations and at the same time would give up anything just to understand how trigonometry would come in handy at a practical level.
Skipping the melodrama, I was (and have been lucky) to have large portions of my week devoted to projects that I genuinely enjoy working on.
Do I still get confused and serially overthink what my next step in life should be?
More than an average human being.
But a part of me also has strong conviction that the North Star which would guide me in this phase of life is ‘Storytelling’.
To that end, I keep experimenting the ideal North Star Metric to help me stay on course to getting better at telling stories – an NSM I recently landed on is publishing two podcast episodes and two new blog posts every month, at one a week.
What a good North Star Metric does to you is cut through the clutter and give a black and white picture of things as they are helping you understand what is working and what is slowing you down.
Build a Moat
Earlier this week, I found myself in a messy nightmare much to the delight of a certain fruit-themed tech giant 👇
As the podcast episodes piled on, the storage was almost full on my laptop – as a lifelong windows user, in my mind it was a situation that needed a small detour but I’d be up and running in no time.
But with Apple? Not so straightforward.
Much to my shock, the run-of-the-mill Seagate hard disk I had purchased in college, ever so reliable simply wouldn’t allow me to write the files from the Mac.
Apparently, unless I changed the ‘Windows friendly’ HD to a ‘Mac friendly’ one, I couldn’t do so much as renaming a file – worst part, it would first require me to wipe off the ~500 GB in order to change formats.
And moving around ~500 GB of data from a hard disk? A fricking logistical nightmare.
Of course, I could avoid all this and go back to my la la land in a minute if I wanted to.
All I had to do was say the magic word.
‘Upgrade’ my iCloud account.
In that moment of panic and desperation, it dawned on me: The vices of Apple on users like us was stronger than bamboo shoots on a loamy soil.
Its ingenuity lies in its simplicity.
Sell gadgets with diminutive storage → Offer amazing media quality that bloats up the file size → Make it near impossible to move around files -> Play Rescuer with iCloud
A closed ecosystem, which makes it harder and harder for you to move away from Apple, the longer you stay. Apple’s biggest competitive moat.
Competitive moat: A business’ ability to maintain competitive advantages over its competitors in order to protect its long-term profits and market share from competing firms. A concept popularized by Warren Buffet.
While the example I chose might have a villainy vibe to someone hearing about competitive moats for the first time, in reality moats are a marvellous concept that help companies maintain a distinct advantage over competition.
The question is, in the theme of ‘Productizing Yourself’ what would a moat look like for an individual?
Of course as individuals we are not gunning for profits or fighting off competitors.
Rather it is quest toward our own self-actualization – being the best version of ourselves.
I believe this is where building a moat goes a long way toward that journey.
A strong moat is basically building a set of core competencies that are closely connected to each other and allows you to leverage your progress in one avenue to get better at another.
While Amazon, Disney, Google are all great examples for companies building a strong moat, personally at an individual level I cannot think of anyone better than Nathan Latka at least in my space.
Nathan Latka is a 31-year old multi-millionaire who currently runs FounderPath, which, for the sake of simplicity let’s say is like a bank that lends money for startups.
At 19, he started a Facebook fan pages company.
He turned that into a super successful business eventually selling it off in 2015.
At around 26, he started a business podcast.
He called it ‘The Top’ podcast.
His episodes are 15 minutes long where he grills startup founders until he gets all the details about their numbers and metrics, and everything else needed to gauge the pulse of the business.
This is Latka’s calendar on a typical recording day.
What do you do when you have a database of 3000+ companies with insights into their revenue, business model, customer acquisition channel?
Nathan spun it off as a subscription service where VCs and other founders could get a glimpse of the playbook used by some of the most successful startup companies across the world.
Then he launched a magazine. A physical magazine in 2021.
When you are so good at the hustle, and anyway sharing your playbook on other podcasts you might as well write about it… and that’s what he did.
Imagine a subscription database, a magazine, a book, a firm that lends capital to startups all built on top of a single podcast.
Each leveraged and scaled around his core competency – it’s like the chicken-and-egg situation except it is not a problem but pathway to an insanely successful career.
As I continue to marvel at how Nathan Latka has hacked his way to success, I take little cues and inspirations wherever possible to sprinkle a bit of storytelling and creativity built on top of a tech foundation.
Figuring out that sweet spot between what we are good at, what there is a need for in the world, and what brings us joy, is both challenging and fulfilling in equal proportions.
Be candid about what isn’t working
Around the same time as Dalgona coffee, Webinars, there was a product specific rage that was catching on with the same intensity as Gangnam style on the US Billboard all those years back.
Instagram, Facebook, Whatsapp, and (Excel!?), you couldn’t catch a break.
Twitter followed suit as well, with its own ‘Fleets’.
However, as soon as it was rolled out it was evident that it didn’t really fit in with how the users viewed the bird app.
Instead of clinging onto its poor judgement out of pride, it acknowledged that Fleets wasn’t working and earlier this week announced that it would be sunsetting the feature.
Fleets, Kindle fire, New Coke are all great examples of ill-thought experiments going sideways. They are also lessons on being candid when things don’t work out and willing to pull the plug when it’s time.
In my case, a newsletter bulletin, a Whatsapp group, a dossier on guests after an episode are some of the ideas that I experimented and failed in the past 12 months as far as the podcast alone is considered.
Giving up on an idea or plan of action sucks. But there’s a lot of exciting action awaiting on the other side to waste on something that’s not working out 🙂
This post is an attempt to condition our decision-making to like that of the product world and definitely a work in progress in terms of the clarity on the idea, which is in large parts influenced by Naval’s wisdom on ‘Productizing Yourself’.
Would love to hear your thoughts on this idea 🙂
Here is the original tweetstorm with some revolutionary ideas on health, wealth, and happiness.