9 months ago

Fairness alternatives to selling below market clearing prices (or community sentiment, or fun)

When a seller has a limited supply of an item in high (or uncertain and possibly high) demand, they frequently set a price far below what "the market will bear." As a result, the item sells out quickly, with lucky buyers being those who tried to buy first. This has happened in the Ethereum ecosystem, particularly with NFT sales and token sales/ICOs. But this phenomenon is much older; concerts and restaurants frequently make similar choices, resulting in fast sell-outs or long lines.

Why do sellers do this? Economists have long wondered. A seller should sell at the market-clearing price if the amount buyers are willing to buy exactly equals the amount the seller has to sell. If the seller is unsure of the market-clearing price, they should sell at auction and let the market decide. So, if you want to sell something below market value, don't do it. It will hurt your sales and it will hurt your customers. The competitions created by non-price-based allocation mechanisms can sometimes have negative externalities that harm third parties, as we will see.

However, the prevalence of below-market-clearing pricing suggests that sellers do it for good reason. And indeed, as decades of research into this topic has shown, there often are. So, is it possible to achieve the same goals with less unfairness, inefficiency, and harm?

Selling at below market-clearing prices has large inefficiencies and negative externalities

An item that is sold at market value or at an auction allows someone who really wants it to pay the high price or bid high in the auction. So, if a seller sells an item below market value, some people will get it and others won't. But the mechanism deciding who gets the item isn't random, and it's not always well correlated with participant desire. It's not always about being the fastest at clicking buttons. Sometimes it means waking up at 2 a.m. (but 11 p.m. or even 2 p.m. elsewhere). Sometimes it's just a "auction by other means" that's more chaotic, less efficient, and has far more negative externalities.

There are many examples of this in the Ethereum ecosystem. Let's start with the 2017 ICO craze. For example, an ICO project would set the price of the token and a hard maximum for how many tokens they are willing to sell, and the sale would start automatically at some point in time. The sale ends when the cap is reached.

So what? In practice, these sales often ended in 30 seconds or less. Everyone would start sending transactions in as soon as (or just before) the sale started, offering higher and higher fees to encourage miners to include their transaction first. Instead of the token seller receiving revenue, miners receive it, and the sale prices out all other applications on-chain.

The most expensive transaction in the BAT sale set a fee of 580,000 gwei, paying a fee of $6,600 to get included in the sale.

Many ICOs after that tried various strategies to avoid these gas price auctions; one ICO notably had a smart contract that checked the transaction's gasprice and rejected it if it exceeded 50 gwei. But that didn't solve the issue. Buyers hoping to game the system sent many transactions hoping one would get through. An auction by another name, clogging the chain even more.

ICOs have recently lost popularity, but NFTs and NFT sales have risen in popularity. But the NFT space didn't learn from 2017; they do fixed-quantity sales just like ICOs (eg. see the mint function on lines 97-108 of this contract here). So what?

That's not the worst; some NFT sales have caused gas price spikes of up to 2000 gwei.

High gas prices from users fighting to get in first by sending higher and higher transaction fees. An auction renamed, pricing out all other applications on-chain for 15 minutes.

So why do sellers sometimes sell below market price?

Selling below market value is nothing new, and many articles, papers, and podcasts have written (and sometimes bitterly complained) about the unwillingness to use auctions or set prices to market-clearing levels.

Many of the arguments are the same for both blockchain (NFTs and ICOs) and non-blockchain examples (popular restaurants and concerts). Fairness and the desire not to exclude the poor, lose fans or create tension by being perceived as greedy are major concerns. The 1986 paper by Kahneman, Knetsch, and Thaler explains how fairness and greed can influence these decisions. I recall that the desire to avoid perceptions of greed was also a major factor in discouraging the use of auction-like mechanisms in 2017.

Aside from fairness concerns, there is the argument that selling out and long lines create a sense of popularity and prestige, making the product more appealing to others. Long lines should have the same effect as high prices in a rational actor model, but this is not the case in reality. This applies to ICOs and NFTs as well as restaurants. Aside from increasing marketing value, some people find the game of grabbing a limited set of opportunities first before everyone else is quite entertaining.

But there are some blockchain-specific factors. One argument for selling ICO tokens below market value (and one that persuaded the OmiseGo team to adopt their capped sale strategy) is community dynamics. The first rule of community sentiment management is to encourage price increases. People are happy if they are "in the green." If the price drops below what the community members paid, they are unhappy and start calling you a scammer, possibly causing a social media cascade where everyone calls you a scammer.

This effect can only be avoided by pricing low enough that post-launch market prices will almost certainly be higher. But how do you do this without creating a rush for the gates that leads to an auction?

Interesting solutions

It's 2021. We have a blockchain. The blockchain is home to a powerful decentralized finance ecosystem, as well as a rapidly expanding set of non-financial tools. The blockchain also allows us to reset social norms. Where decades of economists yelling about "efficiency" failed, blockchains may be able to legitimize new uses of mechanism design. If we could use our more advanced tools to create an approach that more directly solves the problems, with fewer side effects, wouldn't that be better than fiddling with a coarse-grained one-dimensional strategy space of selling at market price versus below market price?

Begin with the goals. We'll try to cover ICOs, NFTs, and conference tickets (really a type of NFT) all at the same time.

1. Fairness: don't completely exclude low-income people from participation; give them a chance. The goal of token sales is to avoid high initial wealth concentration and have a larger and more diverse initial token holder community.

2. Don’t create races: Avoid situations where many people rush to do the same thing and only a few get in (this is the type of situation that leads to the horrible auctions-by-another-name that we saw above).

3. Don't require precise market knowledge: the mechanism should work even if the seller has no idea how much demand exists.

4. Fun: The process of participating in the sale should be fun and game-like, but not frustrating.

5. Give buyers positive expected returns: in the case of a token (or an NFT), buyers should expect price increases rather than decreases. This requires selling below market value.
Let's start with (1). From Ethereum's perspective, there is a simple solution. Use a tool designed for the job: proof of personhood protocols! Here's one quick idea:

Mechanism 1 Each participant (verified by ID) can buy up to ‘’X’’ tokens at price P, with the option to buy more at an auction.

With the per-person mechanism, buyers can get positive expected returns for the portion sold through the per-person mechanism, and the auction part does not require sellers to understand demand levels. Is it race-free? The number of participants buying through the per-person pool appears to be high. But what if the per-person pool isn't big enough to accommodate everyone?

Make the per-person allocation amount dynamic.

Mechanism 2 Each participant can deposit up to X tokens into a smart contract to declare interest. Last but not least, each buyer receives min(X, N / buyers) tokens, where N is the total sold through the per-person pool (some other amount can also be sold by auction). The buyer gets their deposit back if it exceeds the amount needed to buy their allocation.
No longer is there a race condition based on the number of buyers per person. No matter how high the demand, it's always better to join sooner rather than later.

Here's another idea if you like clever game mechanics with fancy quadratic formulas.

Mechanism 3 Each participant can buy X units at a price P X 2 up to a maximum of C tokens per buyer. C starts low and gradually increases until enough units are sold.

The quantity allocated to each buyer is theoretically optimal, though post-sale transfers will degrade this optimality over time. Mechanisms 2 and 3 appear to meet all of the above objectives. They're not perfect, but they're good starting points.

One more issue. For fixed and limited supply NFTs, the equilibrium purchased quantity per participant may be fractional (in mechanism 2, number of buyers > N, and in mechanism 3, setting C = 1 may already lead to over-subscription). With fractional sales, you can offer lottery tickets: if there are N items available, you have a chance of N/number of buyers of getting the item, otherwise you get a refund. For a conference, groups could bundle their lottery tickets to guarantee a win or a loss. The certainty of getting the item can be auctioned.

The bottom tier of "sponsorships" can be used to sell conference tickets at market rate. You may end up with a sponsor board full of people's faces, but is that okay? After all, John Lilic was on EthCC's sponsor board!

Simply put, if you want to be reliably fair to people, you need an input that explicitly measures people. Authentication protocols do this (and if desired can be combined with zero knowledge proofs to ensure privacy). So we should combine the efficiency of market and auction-based pricing with the equality of proof of personhood mechanics.

Answers to possible questions

Q: Won't people who don't care about your project buy the item and immediately resell it?

A: Not at first. Meta-games take time to appear in practice. If they do, making them untradeable for a while may help mitigate the damage. Using your face to claim that your previous account was hacked and that your identity, including everything in it, should be moved to another account works because proof-of-personhood identities are untradeable.

Q: What if I want to make my item available to a specific community?

A: Instead of ID, use proof of participation tokens linked to community events. Another option, also serving egalitarian and gamification purposes, is to encrypt items within publicly available puzzle solutions.

Q: How do we know they'll accept? Strange new mechanisms have previously been resisted.

A: Having economists write screeds about how they "should" accept a new mechanism that they find strange is difficult (or even "equity"). However, abrupt changes in context effectively reset people's expectations. So the blockchain space is the best place to try this. You could wait for the "metaverse", but it's possible that the best version will run on Ethereum anyway, so start now.

More on Web3 & Crypto



1 year ago

10 Predictions for Web3 and the Cryptoeconomy for 2022

By Surojit Chatterjee, Chief Product Officer

2021 proved to be a breakout year for crypto with BTC price gaining almost 70% yoy, Defi hitting $150B in value locked, and NFTs emerging as a new category. Here’s my view through the crystal ball into 2022 and what it holds for our industry:

1. Eth scalability will improve, but newer L1 chains will see substantial growth — As we welcome the next hundred million users to crypto and Web3, scalability challenges for Eth are likely to grow. I am optimistic about improvements in Eth scalability with the emergence of Eth2 and many L2 rollups. Traction of Solana, Avalanche and other L1 chains shows that we’ll live in a multi-chain world in the future. We’re also going to see newer L1 chains emerge that focus on specific use cases such as gaming or social media.

2. There will be significant usability improvements in L1-L2 bridges — As more L1 networks gain traction and L2s become bigger, our industry will desperately seek improvements in speed and usability of cross-L1 and L1-L2 bridges. We’re likely to see interesting developments in usability of bridges in the coming year.

3. Zero knowledge proof technology will get increased traction — 2021 saw protocols like ZkSync and Starknet beginning to get traction. As L1 chains get clogged with increased usage, ZK-rollup technology will attract both investor and user attention. We’ll see new privacy-centric use cases emerge, including privacy-safe applications, and gaming models that have privacy built into the core. This may also bring in more regulator attention to crypto as KYC/AML could be a real challenge in privacy centric networks.

4. Regulated Defi and emergence of on-chain KYC attestation — Many Defi protocols will embrace regulation and will create separate KYC user pools. Decentralized identity and on-chain KYC attestation services will play key roles in connecting users’ real identity with Defi wallet endpoints. We’ll see more acceptance of ENS type addresses, and new systems from cross chain name resolution will emerge.

5. Institutions will play a much bigger role in Defi participation — Institutions are increasingly interested in participating in Defi. For starters, institutions are attracted to higher than average interest-based returns compared to traditional financial products. Also, cost reduction in providing financial services using Defi opens up interesting opportunities for institutions. However, they are still hesitant to participate in Defi. Institutions want to confirm that they are only transacting with known counterparties that have completed a KYC process. Growth of regulated Defi and on-chain KYC attestation will help institutions gain confidence in Defi.

6. Defi insurance will emerge — As Defi proliferates, it also becomes the target of security hacks. According to London-based firm Elliptic, total value lost by Defi exploits in 2021 totaled over $10B. To protect users from hacks, viable insurance protocols guaranteeing users’ funds against security breaches will emerge in 2022.

7. NFT Based Communities will give material competition to Web 2.0 social networks — NFTs will continue to expand in how they are perceived. We’ll see creator tokens or fan tokens take more of a first class seat. NFTs will become the next evolution of users’ digital identity and passport to the metaverse. Users will come together in small and diverse communities based on types of NFTs they own. User created metaverses will be the future of social networks and will start threatening the advertising driven centralized versions of social networks of today.

8. Brands will start actively participating in the metaverse and NFTs — Many brands are realizing that NFTs are great vehicles for brand marketing and establishing brand loyalty. Coca-Cola, Campbell’s, Dolce & Gabbana and Charmin released NFT collectibles in 2021. Adidas recently launched a new metaverse project with Bored Ape Yacht Club. We’re likely to see more interesting brand marketing initiatives using NFTs. NFTs and the metaverse will become the new Instagram for brands. And just like on Instagram, many brands may start as NFT native. We’ll also see many more celebrities jumping in the bandwagon and using NFTs to enhance their personal brand.

9. Web2 companies will wake up and will try to get into Web3 — We’re already seeing this with Facebook trying to recast itself as a Web3 company. We’re likely to see other big Web2 companies dipping their toes into Web3 and metaverse in 2022. However, many of them are likely to create centralized and closed network versions of the metaverse.

10. Time for DAO 2.0 — We’ll see DAOs become more mature and mainstream. More people will join DAOs, prompting a change in definition of employment — never receiving a formal offer letter, accepting tokens instead of or along with fixed salaries, and working in multiple DAO projects at the same time. DAOs will also confront new challenges in terms of figuring out how to do M&A, run payroll and benefits, and coordinate activities in larger and larger organizations. We’ll see a plethora of tools emerge to help DAOs execute with efficiency. Many DAOs will also figure out how to interact with traditional Web2 companies. We’re likely to see regulators taking more interest in DAOs and make an attempt to educate themselves on how DAOs work.

Thanks to our customers and the ecosystem for an incredible 2021. Looking forward to another year of building the foundations for Web3. Wagmi.

Caleb Naysmith

Caleb Naysmith

5 months ago   Draft

A Myth: Decentralization

It’s simply not conceivable, or at least not credible.

Photo by Josh Hild on Unsplash

One of the most touted selling points of Crypto has always been this grandiose idea of decentralization. Bitcoin first arose in 2009 after the housing crisis and subsequent crash that came with it. It aimed to solve this supposed issue of centralization. Nobody “owns” Bitcoin in theory, so the idea then goes that it won’t be subject to the same downfalls that led to the 2008 crash or similarly speculative events that led to the 2008 disaster. The issue is the banks, not the human nature associated with the greedy individuals running them.

Subsequent blockchains have attempted to fix many of the issues of Bitcoin by increasing capacity, decreasing the costs and processing times associated with Bitcoin, and expanding what can be done with their blockchains. Since nobody owns Bitcoin, it hasn’t really been able to be expanded on. You have people like Vitalk Buterin, however, that actively work on Ethereum though.

The leap from Bitcoin to Ethereum was a massive leap toward centralization, and the trend has only gotten worse. In fact, crypto has since become almost exclusively centralized in recent years.

Decentralization is only good in theory

It’s a good idea. In fact, it’s a wonderful idea. However, like other utopian societies, individuals misjudge human nature and greed. In a perfect world, decentralization would certainly be a wonderful idea because sure, people may function as their own banks, move payments immediately, remain anonymous, and so on. However, underneath this are a couple issues:

  • You can already send money instantaneously today.

  • They are not decentralized.

  • Decentralization is a bad idea.

  • Being your own bank is a stupid move.

Let’s break these down. Some are quite simple, but lets have a look.

Sending money right away

One thing with crypto is the idea that you can send payments instantly. This has pretty much been entirely solved in current times. You can transmit significant sums of money instantly for a nominal cost and it’s instantaneously cleared. Venmo was launched in 2009 and has since increased to prominence, and currently is on most people's phones. I can directly send ANY amount of money quickly from my bank to another person's Venmo account.

Comparing that with ETH and Bitcoin, Venmo wins all around. I can send money to someone for free instantly in dollars and the only fee paid is optional depending on when you want it.

Both Bitcoin and Ethereum are subject to demand. If the blockchains have a lot of people trying to process transactions fee’s go up, and the time that it takes to receive your crypto takes longer. When Ethereum gets bad, people have reported spending several thousand of dollars on just 1 transaction.

These transactions take place via “miners” bundling and confirming transactions, then recording them on the blockchain to confirm that the transaction did indeed happen. They charge fees to do this and are also paid in Bitcoin/ETH. When a transaction is confirmed, it's then sent to the other users wallet. This within itself is subject to lots of controversy because each transaction needs to be confirmed 6 times, this takes massive amounts of power, and most of the power is wasted because this is an adversarial system in which the person that mines the transaction gets paid, and everyone else is out of luck. Also, these could theoretically be subject to a “51% attack” in which anyone with over 51% of the mining hash rate could effectively control all of the transactions, and reverse transactions while keeping the BTC resulting in “double spending”.

There are tons of other issues with this, but essentially it means: They rely on these third parties to confirm the transactions. Without people confirming these transactions, Bitcoin stalls completely, and if anyone becomes too dominant they can effectively control bitcoin.

Not to mention, these transactions are in Bitcoin and ETH, not dollars. So, you need to convert them to dollars still, and that's several more transactions, and likely to take several days anyway as the centralized exchange needs to send you the money by traditional methods.

They are not distributed

That takes me to the following point. This isn’t decentralized, at all. Bitcoin is the closest it gets because Satoshi basically closed it to new upgrades, although its still subject to:

  • Whales

  • Miners

It’s vital to realize that these are often the same folks. While whales aren’t centralized entities typically, they can considerably effect the price and outcome of Bitcoin. If the largest wallets holding as much as 1 million BTC were to sell, it’d effectively collapse the price perhaps beyond repair. However, Bitcoin can and is pretty much controlled by the miners. Further, Bitcoin is more like an oligarchy than decentralized. It’s been effectively used to make the rich richer, and both the mining and price is impacted by the rich. The overwhelming minority of those actually using it are retail investors. The retail investors are basically never the ones generating money from it either.

As far as ETH and other cryptos go, there is realistically 0 case for them being decentralized. Vitalik could not only kill it but even walking away from it would likely lead to a significant decline. It has tons of issues right now that Vitalik has promised to fix with the eventual Ethereum 2.0., and stepping away from it wouldn’t help.

Most tokens as well are generally tied to some promise of future developments and creators. The same is true for most NFT projects. The reason 99% of crypto and NFT projects fail is because they failed to deliver on various promises or bad dev teams, or poor innovation, or the founders just straight up stole from everyone. I could go more in-depth than this but go find any project and if there is a dev team, company, or person tied to it then it's likely, not decentralized. The success of that project is directly tied to the dev team, and if they wanted to, most hold large wallets and could sell it all off effectively killing the project. Not to mention, any crypto project that doesn’t have a locked contract can 100% be completely rugged and they can run off with all of the money.

Decentralization is undesirable

Even if they were decentralized then it would not be a good thing. The graphic above indicates this is effectively a rich person’s unregulated playground… so it’s exactly like… the very issue it tried to solve?

Not to mention, it’s supposedly meant to prevent things like 2008, but is regularly subjected to 50–90% drawdowns in value? Back when Bitcoin was only known in niche parts of the dark web and illegal markets, it would regularly drop as much as 90% and has a long history of massive drawdowns.

The majority of crypto is blatant scams, and ALL of crypto is a “zero” or “negative” sum game in that it relies on the next person buying for people to make money. This is not a good thing. This has yet to solve any issues around what caused the 2008 crisis. Rather, it seemingly amplified all of the bad parts of it actually. Crypto is the ultimate speculative asset and realistically has no valuation metric. People invest in Apple because it has revenue and cash on hand. People invest in crypto purely for speculation. The lack of regulation or accountability means this is amplified to the most extreme degree where anything goes: Fraud, deception, pump and dumps, scams, etc. This results in a pure speculative madhouse where, unsurprisingly, only the rich win. Not only that but the deck is massively stacked in against the everyday investor because you can’t do a pump and dump without money.

At the heart of all of this is still the same issues: greed and human nature. However, in setting out to solve the issues that allowed 2008 to happen, they made something that literally took all of the bad parts of 2008 and then amplified it. 2008, similarly, was due to greed and human nature but was allowed to happen due to lack of oversite, rich people's excessive leverage over the poor, and excessive speculation. Crypto trades SOLELY on human emotion, has 0 oversite, is pure speculation, and the power dynamic is just as bad or worse.

Why should each individual be their own bank?

This is the last one, and it's short and basic. Why do we want people functioning as their own bank? Everything we do relies on another person. Without the internet, and internet providers there is no crypto. We don’t have people functioning as their own home and car manufacturers or internet service providers. Sure, you might specialize in some of these things, but masquerading as your own bank is a horrible idea.

I am not in the banking industry so I don’t know all the issues with banking. Most people aren’t in banking or crypto, so they don’t know the ENDLESS scams associated with it, and they are bound to lose their money eventually.

If you appreciate this article and want to read more from me and authors like me, without any limits, consider buying me a coffee:

Marco Manoppo

Marco Manoppo

2 months ago

Failures of DCG and Genesis

Don't sleep with your own sister.

70% of lottery winners go broke within five years. You've heard the last one. People who got rich quickly without setbacks and hard work often lose it all. My father said, "Easy money is easily lost," and a wealthy friend who owns a family office said, "The first generation makes it, the second generation spends it, and the third generation blows it."

This is evident. Corrupt politicians in developing countries live lavishly, buying their third wives' fifth Hermès bag and celebrating New Year's at The Brando Resort. A successful businessperson from humble beginnings is more conservative with money. More so if they're atom-based, not bit-based. They value money.

Crypto can "feel" easy. I have nothing against capital market investing. The global financial system is shady, but that's another topic. The problem started when those who took advantage of easy money started affecting other businesses. VCs did minimal due diligence on FTX because they needed deal flow and returns for their LPs. Lenders did minimum diligence and underwrote ludicrous loans to 3AC because they needed revenue.

Alameda (hence FTX) and 3AC made "easy money" Genesis and DCG aren't. Their businesses are more conventional, but they underestimated how "easy money" can hurt them.

Genesis has been the victim of easy money hubris and insolvency, losing $1 billion+ to 3AC and $200M to FTX. We discuss the implications for the broader crypto market.

Here are the quick takeaways:

  • Genesis is one of the largest and most notable crypto lenders and prime brokerage firms.

  • DCG and Genesis have done related party transactions, which can be done right but is a bad practice.

  • Genesis owes DCG $1.5 billion+.

  • If DCG unwinds Grayscale's GBTC, $9-10 billion in BTC will hit the market.

  • DCG will survive Genesis.

What happened?

Let's recap the FTX shenanigan from two weeks ago. Shenanigans! Delphi's tweet sums up the craziness. Genesis has $175M in FTX.

Cred's timeline: I hate bad crisis management. Yes, admitting their balance sheet hole right away might've sparked more panic, and there's no easy way to convey your trouble, but no one ever learns.

By November 23, rumors circulated online that the problem could affect Genesis' parent company, DCG. To address this, Barry Silbert, Founder, and CEO of DCG released a statement to shareholders.

  • A few things are confirmed thanks to this statement.

  • DCG owes $1.5 billion+ to Genesis.

  • $500M is due in 6 months, and the rest is due in 2032 (yes, that’s not a typo).

  • Unless Barry raises new cash, his last-ditch efforts to repay the money will likely push the crypto market lower.

  • Half a year of GBTC fees is approximately $100M.

  • They can pay $500M with GBTC.

  • With profits, sell another port.

Genesis has hired a restructuring adviser, indicating it is in trouble.


Every crypto problem in the past year seems to be rehypothecation between related parties, excessive leverage, hubris, and the removal of the money printer. The Bankless guys provided a chart showing 2021 crypto yield.

In June 2022, @DataFinnovation published a great investigation about 3AC and DCG. Here's a summary.

  • 3AC borrowed BTC from Genesis and pledged it to create Grayscale's GBTC shares.

  • 3AC uses GBTC to borrow more money from Genesis.

  • This lets 3AC leverage their capital.

  • 3AC's strategy made sense because GBTC had a premium, creating "free money."

  • GBTC's discount and LUNA's implosion caused problems.

  • 3AC lost its loan money in LUNA.

  • Margin called on 3ACs' GBTC collateral.

  • DCG bought GBTC to avoid a systemic collapse and a larger discount.

  • Genesis lost too much money because 3AC can't pay back its loan. DCG "saved" Genesis, but the FTX collapse hurt Genesis further, forcing DCG and Genesis to seek external funding.


Learning Experience

Co-borrowing. Unnecessary rehypothecation. Extra space. Governance disaster. Greed, hubris. Crypto has repeatedly shown it can recreate traditional financial system disasters quickly. Working in crypto is one of the best ways to learn crazy financial tricks people will do for a quick buck much faster than if you dabble in traditional finance.

Moving Forward

I think the crypto industry needs to consider its future. This is especially true for professionals. I'm not trying to scare you. In 2018 and 2020, I had doubts. No doubts now. Detailing the crypto industry's potential outcomes helped me gain certainty and confidence in its future. This includes VCs' benefits and talking points during the bull market, as well as what would happen if government regulations became hostile, etc. Even if that happens, I'm certain. This is permanent. I may write a post about that soon.



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Steffan Morris Hernandez

Steffan Morris Hernandez

4 days ago

10 types of cognitive bias to watch out for in UX research & design

10 biases in 10 visuals

Image by Steffan Morris Hernandez

Cognitive biases are crucial for UX research, design, and daily life. Our biases distort reality.

After learning about biases at my UX Research bootcamp, I studied Erika Hall's Just Enough Research and used the Nielsen Norman Group's wealth of information. 10 images show my findings.

1. Bias in sampling

Misselection of target population members causes sampling bias. For example, you are building an app to help people with food intolerances log their meals and are targeting adult males (years 20-30), adult females (ages 20-30), and teenage males and females (ages 15-19) with food intolerances. However, a sample of only adult males and teenage females is biased and unrepresentative.

Image by Steffan Morris Hernandez

2. Sponsor Disparity

Sponsor bias occurs when a study's findings favor an organization's goals. Beware if X organization promises to drive you to their HQ, compensate you for your time, provide food, beverages, discounts, and warmth. Participants may endeavor to be neutral, but incentives and prizes may bias their evaluations and responses in favor of X organization.

In Just Enough Research, Erika Hall suggests describing the company's aims without naming it.

Image by Steffan Morris Hernandez

Third, False-Consensus Bias

False-consensus bias is when a person thinks others think and act the same way. For instance, if a start-up designs an app without researching end users' needs, it could fail since end users may have different wants.

Working directly with the end user and employing many research methodologies to improve validity helps lessen this prejudice. When analyzing data, triangulation can boost believability.

Image by Steffan Morris Hernandez

Bias of the interviewer

I struggled with this bias during my UX research bootcamp interviews. Interviewing neutrally takes practice and patience. Avoid leading questions that structure the story since the interviewee must interpret them. Nodding or smiling throughout the interview may subconsciously influence the interviewee's responses.

Image by Steffan Morris Hernandez

The Curse of Knowledge

The curse of knowledge occurs when someone expects others understand a subject as well as they do. UX research interviews and surveys should reduce this bias because technical language might confuse participants and harm the research. Interviewing participants as though you are new to the topic may help them expand on their replies without being influenced by the researcher's knowledge.

The curse of knowledge visual

Confirmation Bias

Most prevalent bias. People highlight evidence that supports their ideas and ignore data that doesn't. The echo chamber of social media creates polarization by promoting similar perspectives.

A researcher with confirmation bias may dismiss data that contradicts their research goals. Thus, the research or product may not serve end users.

Image by Steffan Morris Hernandez

Design biases

UX Research design bias pertains to study construction and execution. Design bias occurs when data is excluded or magnified based on human aims, assumptions, and preferences.

Image by Steffan Morris Hernandez

The Hawthorne Impact

Remember when you behaved differently while the teacher wasn't looking? When you behaved differently without your parents watching? A UX research study's Hawthorne Effect occurs when people modify their behavior because you're watching. To escape judgment, participants may act and speak differently.

To avoid this, researchers should blend into the background and urge subjects to act alone.

Image by Steffan Morris Hernandez

The bias against social desire

People want to belong to escape rejection and hatred. Research interviewees may mislead or slant their answers to avoid embarrassment. Researchers should encourage honesty and confidentiality in studies to address this. Observational research may reduce bias better than interviews because participants behave more organically.

Image by Steffan Morris Hernandez

Relative Time Bias

Humans tend to appreciate recent experiences more. Consider school. Say you failed a recent exam but did well in the previous 7 exams. Instead, you may vividly recall the last terrible exam outcome.

If a UX researcher relies their conclusions on the most recent findings instead of all the data and results, recency bias might occur.

Image by Steffan Morris Hernandez

I hope you liked learning about UX design, research, and real-world biases.

Sammy Abdullah

Sammy Abdullah

4 months ago

R&D, S&M, and G&A expense ratios for SaaS

SaaS spending is 40/40/20. 40% of operating expenses should be R&D, 40% sales and marketing, and 20% G&A. We wanted to see the statistics behind the rules of thumb. Since October 2017, 73 SaaS startups have gone public. Perhaps the rule of thumb should be 30/50/20. The data is below.

30/50/20. R&D accounts for 26% of opex, sales and marketing 48%, and G&A 22%. We think R&D/S&M/G&A should be 30/50/20.

There are outliers. There are exceptions to rules of thumb. Dropbox spent 45% on R&D whereas Zoom spent 13%. Zoom spent 73% on S&M, Dropbox 37%, and 28%. Snowflake spent 130% of revenue on S&M, while their EBITDA margin is -192%.

G&A shouldn't stand out. Minimize G&A spending. Priorities should be product development and sales. Cloudflare, Sendgrid, Snowflake, and Palantir spend 36%, 34%, 37%, and 43% on G&A.

Another myth is that COGS is 20% of revenue. Median and averages are 29%.

Where is the profitability? Data-driven operating income calculations were simplified (Revenue COGS R&D S&M G&A). 20 of 73 IPO businesses reported operational income. Median and average operating income margins are -21% and -27%.

As long as you're growing fast, have outstanding retention, and marquee clients, you can burn cash since recurring income that doesn't churn is a valuable annuity.

The data was compelling overall. 30/50/20 is the new 40/40/20 for more established SaaS enterprises, unprofitability is alright as long as your business is expanding, and COGS can be somewhat more than 20% of revenue.

Ari Joury, PhD

Ari Joury, PhD

2 months ago

7 ways to turn into a major problem-solver

Frustration is normal when faced with unsolvable problems. Image by author

For some people, the glass is half empty. For others, it’s half full. And for some, the question is, How do I get this glass totally full again?

Problem-solvers are the last group. They're neutral. Pragmatists.

Problems surround them. They fix things instead of judging them. Problem-solvers improve the world wherever they go.

Some fail. Sometimes their good intentions have terrible results. Like when they try to help a grandma cross the road because she can't do it alone but discover she never wanted to.

Most programmers, software engineers, and data scientists solve problems. They use computer code to fix problems they see.

Coding is best done by understanding and solving the problem.

Despite your best intentions, building the wrong solution may have negative consequences. Helping an unwilling grandma cross the road.

How can you improve problem-solving?

1. Examine your presumptions.

Don’t think There’s a grandma, and she’s unable to cross the road. Therefore I must help her over the road. Instead think This grandma looks unable to cross the road. Let’s ask her whether she needs my help to cross it.

Maybe the grandma can’t cross the road alone, but maybe she can. You can’t tell for sure just by looking at her. It’s better to ask.

Maybe the grandma wants to cross the road. But maybe she doesn’t. It’s better to ask!

Building software is similar. Do only I find this website ugly? Who can I consult?

We all have biases, mental shortcuts, and worldviews. They simplify life.

Problem-solving requires questioning all assumptions. They might be wrong!

Think less. Ask more.

Secondly, fully comprehend the issue.

Grandma wants to cross the road? Does she want flowers from the shop across the street?

Understanding the problem advances us two steps. Instead of just watching people and their challenges, try to read their intentions.

Don't ask, How can I help grandma cross the road? Why would this grandma cross the road? What's her goal?

Understand what people want before proposing solutions.

3. Request more information. This is not a scam!

People think great problem solvers solve problems immediately. False!

Problem-solvers study problems. Understanding the problem makes solving it easy.

When you see a grandma struggling to cross the road, you want to grab her elbow and pull her over. However, a good problem solver would ask grandma what she wants. So:

Problem solver: Excuse me, ma’am? Do you wish to get over the road? Grandma: Yes indeed, young man! Thanks for asking. Problem solver: What do you want to do on the other side? Grandma: I want to buy a bouquet of flowers for my dear husband. He loves flowers! I wish the shop wasn’t across this busy road… Problem solver: Which flowers does your husband like best? Grandma: He loves red dahlia. I usually buy about 20 of them. They look so pretty in his vase at the window! Problem solver: I can get those dahlia for you quickly. Go sit on the bench over here while you’re waiting; I’ll be back in five minutes. Grandma: You would do that for me? What a generous young man you are!

A mediocre problem solver would have helped the grandma cross the road, but he might have forgotten that she needs to cross again. She must watch out for cars and protect her flowers on the way back.

A good problem solver realizes that grandma's husband wants 20 red dahlias and completes the task.

4- Rapid and intense brainstorming

Understanding a problem makes solutions easy. However, you may not have all the information needed to solve the problem.

Additionally, retrieving crucial information can be difficult.

You could start a blog. You don't know your readers' interests. You can't ask readers because you don't know who they are.

Brainstorming works here. Set a stopwatch (most smartphones have one) to ring after five minutes. In the remaining time, write down as many topics as possible.

No answer is wrong. Note everything.

Sort these topics later. Programming or data science? What might readers scroll past—are these your socks this morning?

Rank your ideas intuitively and logically. Write Medium stories using the top 35 ideas.

5 - Google it.

Doctor Google may answer this seemingly insignificant question. If you understand your problem, try googling or binging.

Someone has probably had your problem before. The problem-solver may have posted their solution online.

Use others' experiences. If you're social, ask a friend or coworker for help.

6 - Consider it later

Rest your brain.

Reread. Your brain needs rest to function.

Hustle culture encourages working 24/7. It doesn't take a neuroscientist to see that this is mental torture.

Leave an unsolvable problem. Visit friends, take a hot shower, or do whatever you enjoy outside of problem-solving.


I get my best ideas in the morning after working on a problem. I couldn't have had these ideas last night.

Sleeping subconsciously. Leave it alone and you may be surprised by the genius it produces.

7 - Learn to live with frustration

There are problems that you’ll never solve.

Mathematicians are world-class problem-solvers. The brightest minds in history have failed to solve many mathematical problems.

A Gordian knot problem can frustrate you. You're smart!

Frustration-haters don't solve problems well. They choose simple problems to avoid frustration.

No. Great problem solvers want to solve a problem but know when to give up.

Frustration initially hurts. You adapt.

Famous last words

If you read this article, you probably solve problems. We've covered many ways to improve, so here's a summary:

  1. Test your presumptions. Is the issue the same for everyone else when you see one? Or are your prejudices and self-judgments misguiding you?

  2. Recognize the issue completely. On the surface, a problem may seem straightforward, but what's really going on? Try to see what the current situation might be building up to by thinking two steps ahead of the current situation.

  3. Request more information. You are no longer a high school student. A two-sentence problem statement is not sufficient to provide a solution. Ask away if you need more details!

  4. Think quickly and thoroughly. In a constrained amount of time, try to write down all your thoughts. All concepts are worthwhile! Later, you can order them.

  5. Google it. There is a purpose for the internet. Use it.

  6. Consider it later at night. A rested mind is more creative. It might seem counterintuitive to leave a problem unresolved. But while you're sleeping, your subconscious will handle the laborious tasks.

  7. Accept annoyance as a normal part of life. Don't give up if you're feeling frustrated. It's a step in the procedure. It's also perfectly acceptable to give up on a problem because there are other, more pressing issues that need to be addressed.

You might feel stupid sometimes, but that just shows that you’re human. You care about the world and you want to make it better.

At the end of the day, that’s all there is to problem solving — making the world a little bit better.