If DuckDuckGo does not track us, how come it is not as successful as Google?

For the following reasons:

A. Both are free for the user but Google provides consistently better quality results. DuckDuckGo is the underdog in this field and it is difficult for it to become more popular than Google given that the results it provides are less efficient than Google’s. This is the same problem that Yahoo and Bing are facing: they are not able to match Google’s quality of results and for this reasons users — always in a hurry and hating wasting time on useless pages — keep using what they know works best. Continue reading “If DuckDuckGo does not track us, how come it is not as successful as Google?”

Do you think someone that makes USD 900k a year is rich? What kind of lifestyle can this person afford?

It depends. Being rich is one of the most subjective things that exist.

I have a friend who is a lawyer in his late 40s and makes sensibly above the 900K USD yearly threshold (let’s say approximately 80k USD a month) and he surely does not believe to be poor but he pointed out to me the following details attached to that figure:

A. Slightly less than half of that sum goes away in taxes (40k USD). There is no way around it as he works in a big law firm which does not allow any room for tax avoidance schemes or under-reporting of revenues, which are quite common for solo practitioners and smaller firms; Continue reading “Do you think someone that makes USD 900k a year is rich? What kind of lifestyle can this person afford?”

What are the cleverest scams you have come across?

This scam was quite elaborate but guaranteed success many times over and it involved a delivery of a (non-existent) large order of steel from Asia to Europe.

A man with perfect and in-depth knowledge of the steel market calls an Italian, French or German company manufacturing products which require huge quantities of steel: usually big construction companies, large pipes manufacturers, etc. This is an industry with fierce competition and razor thin margins where companies are fighting every day to catch some lucrative business.

The gentleman claims to be the representative for Italy / France / Germany of a Swedish company called XYZ Ltd which works in the metal business (there is fake website arranged with fake phone numbers, fake registered office, etc.).

The gentleman knows in depth what he is talking about, he shows connections with other big and international companies in the steel market, has worked with this and that guy, he has been in the business more than 30 years, etc. etc.

The gentleman offers to negotiate a large scale delivery of steel for a large (but not “impossibly large”) discount from a big and well known steel company either in South Korea or China as long as the purchaser was willing to pay 100% of the (discounted) purchase price upfront.

We are talking about an order of a few million USD of steel.

All communication was done by fax or by e-mail attaching other faxes, letters, documents, quality certificates, etc.

The whole communication from the Korean or Chinese companies was totally forged with fake email addresses and fake phone numbers.

In order to prevent any scam, at the moment of purchase the parties exchanged the money paid with a First Demand Bank Guarantee issued by a well reputed European Bank: by holding the original of the Bank Guarantee the buyer was 100% safe that if the metal was not delivered they could go to the Bank and ask for the money back without any exception whatsoever (this is standard practice for large scale contracts among big players). Please note that this required the scammers to have a bank account with the bank and deposit there at least an amount of money equal to the value of the Guarantee the Bank was going to issue (i.e. these guys were professionals with millions of USD at their disposal).

At the moment of exchanging the guarantee the parties met at the Bank’s premises and, with an excuse, the scammers were able – almost like magicians – to take possession of the original of the Bank Guarantee (which was supposed to be in the hands of the buyer the whole the time) and while people were amiably chatting about the steel market, they changed it with an almost identical color copy (they kept the original and gave the buyer’s representatives the color copy) under the eyes of the Bank’s and the buyer’s representatives. Keep in mind that this was done at the Bank’s premises, so this required amazing manual skills, speed of execution and cold blood.

Delivery of the steel was supposed to happen in 60/90 days from the exchange of the price with the Bank Guarantee.

24h after the exchange, the scammers went back to the Bank handing back the original of the guarantee and claiming that performance had already occurred so there was no need for the guarantee anymore.

Once received the original of the Bank Guarantee, the Bank immediately cancelled it (and the underlying obligation protecting the buyer vanished) thus releasing the money deposited by the scammers in the bank account.

The buyer remained in contact with the (fake) representative of the Korean and Chinese companies for a few weeks: after a month or so they stop answering the emails and phone calls.

Immediately the buyer realized that maybe there was something fishy.

After some further investigation and realising that even the Swedish intermediary company has now disappeared, they decide to rush to the Bank and request the payment of the Bank Guarantee.

The Bank confirms that the Bank Guarantee has been already cancelled 24h after being issued by returning the original document of the Guarantee that was now in their hands.

The parties compared the two versions of the Guarantee and realise that the one in the hands of the buyer was just a well made color copy of the original in the hands of the Bank.

In the meantime the scammers had all the time to transfer the purchase price to various bank accounts in Switzerland and then Cyprus and then elsewhere leaving no trace.

What are the biggest lessons you have learned in the corporate world?

Your mileage may vary, but these are my Top 12 lessons I learnt in corporate world:

  1. Fly one inch below the radar:the less you are noticed, the better. Do your work & get results, but do not seek publicity or engage in politics. Do not join factions, spread rumors or hold grudges. Results will speak for you much louder and longer term than anything else.
  2. Always have a back-up plan: corporate world will sooner or later betray you. It’s not you: it’s them. Be ready and it will not be a big deal. If you think that you are different or irreplaceable and do not need a back-up plan, you should prepare not one but two of them (and check that they are working in case of need).
  3. Choose your boss carefully: if your boss is a loser, your life will be a misery in no time.
  4. Treat the cleaner like you treat the CEO: this is self-explanatory and, incidentally, the right thing to do.
  5. Never do gossip: you are wasting your time (that you should spend in finding ways to achieve results) and you will only attract the worst people around you.
  6. Do not date a colleague: after two weeks it will be a hell and it is totally not worth it (for both of you). Stay sane and don’t do this mistake.
  7. To make real progress,you must leave: those staying too long in a company will be eventually taken for granted, like furniture (this is very important for the point 8 below).
  8. Study Game Theory as soon as possible: you must come to terms that you and your employer have often irreconcilable objectives out of your career. For this reason, you will never get what you are worth or deserve unless you are able to force your employer into a “dominated game(google it).
  9. Do not work overtime unless it is absolutelynecessary: there is a life out there.
  10. Never be too good:in Venice we have an old saying very fit for the corporate world “I tropo boni i magna i cani”(literally: “those who are too good are eaten by the dogs”).
  11. Solve problems:most of the people around you will do barely enough at work, but only a very limited number of people in the company actually manage to solve problems. Problem solvers are golden nuggets in any corporate environment. If you learn how to solve problems you will quickly become essential (this very important for the Game Theory point n. 8).
  12. Be creative: if you are smart and find a way to solve problems in creative ways, do not be afraid to follow that route even if it is different from the past. Laziness and established procedures kill the corporate innovation spirit. Be different, solve problems and you will be rewarded.

Bonus Point:Smile a Lot. A good attitude is more than 50% of the work done. It is incredible how much it helps just to keep a smile on in order to positively impact the workspace and people around you, and still so many people forget to smile for weeks (if not months).

I want to quit my job and start my own business. Where should I start?

First: do not quit your job (yet). A steady income will not only give you money to pay bills and buy rice & beans, but also the mental freedom to take time for yourself at night and weekends to start a new business.

Second: use nights, weekends & holiday time to study awkward and neglected business niches. It can be anything from stamps, to girls’ bracelets, dog’s collars, whatever. These niches are most of the times too small for deep-pocketed players to enter into, but big enough for small players to enter and profitably market their products without big marketing investments.

Third: once you have found an interesting niche, start selling your products there through one of the many available online portals (it can be Amazon, or Etsy, or Ebay). You will understand that every niche has its own preferred channel: use the most common one to achieve the initial lowest selling friction. Once you have learnt how to use this channel, you can start selling on different channels so to (hopefully) multiply your results.Action is very important. Do not think too much, do not wait to have the best product ever. As soon as you will start selling you will acquire knowledge of your market niche and you will learn from your mistakes (even if you are not able to sell at all).

Fourth: periodically evaluate your results. If you are not making at least 1000 USD of monthly profits after approximately the first 3 months, you must re-focus on a less exploited / more fertile niche. Margin is essential. This is just a business: you are not marrying your next wife. If it does not work, learn from your mistake and move on.

Fifth: after a few attempts you will get better (and luckier) and find a profitable niche. Once your own business stars yielding approximately 10k USD a month of monthly profit you can evaluate whether to ditch your job and focus exclusively on your own business.

Why does Tim Cook care so much about diversity at Apple?

In real world it is not so easy to choose the “most qualified people”.

Being “qualified” for a job is not something simple to assess (or achieve), like a college score or a “cum laude” degree.

Outside of Academia, most of the abilities that you need to be “qualified” for a job are gained by putting your skin in the game (i.e. by gradually gaining experiences and achieving results with increasingly complex tasks).

If candidates are not given the opportunity to put their skin in the game, they will never gain these abilities and eventually they will never be “qualified” for a job.

This is a self-perpetuating vicious circle which has been proved very difficult to break in the corporate world: if white males keep hiring only white males candidates, there will only be white males at the office and only white males will eventually put their skin in the game and be the most qualified.

This is not just a matter of gender equality or political correctness: lack of diversity stifles innovation in the workspace because new ideas spurt out of diversity and by adopting (and mixing) new approaches to old problems.

In my personal experience, law firms and investment banks are probably the most glaring examples of working environments where – except of the occasional leaflet left by HR in the canteen – the standard hiring mentality is stubbornly against accepting/allowing diversity in the workspace and in fact most of them show decades-long dwarfed rates of innovation.

They can go away with it because the market sector where they operate is firmly in their hands and cannot be easily disrupted (thanks to legal barriers which have been shaped through many decades of lobbying and perpetuation of status-quo).

This is not the case for the tech and other sectors where “new ideas” are potentially able to completely disrupt entire markets in a matter of just a few months.

“New ideas” are the golden currency of our era and companies like Apple know that to get them “inside” their workspace is an order of magnitude cheaper than “buying” them on the market.

Apple knows that if they want to keep coming up with new ideas at all levels (from their boxes, to their laptops, from a logistic process to an internet service, etc.) it is crucial to have a diversified working environment and for this reason they have decided to try to tackle this issue boldly under Tim Cook’s helm.

Also, I believe that giving opportunities to gain exposure & experience in the workspace to all candidates regardless of sex, race, etc. is the right thing to do.