More on Leadership
12 days ago
Metrics for product management and being a good leader
Never design a product without explicit metrics and tracking tools.
Imagine driving cross-country without a dashboard. How do you know your school zone speed? Low gas? Without a dashboard, you can't monitor your car. You can't improve what you don't measure, as Peter Drucker said. Product managers must constantly enhance their understanding of their users, how they use their product, and how to improve it for optimum value. Customers will only pay if they consistently acquire value from your product.
I’m Solomon Ayanlakin. I’m a product manager at CredPal, a financial business that offers credit cards and Buy Now Pay Later services. Before falling into product management (like most PMs lol), I self-trained as a data analyst, using Alex the Analyst's YouTube playlists and DannyMas' virtual data internship. This article aims to help product managers, owners, and CXOs understand product metrics, give a methodology for creating them, and execute product experiments to enhance them.
Product metrics assist companies track product performance from the user's perspective. Metrics help firms decide what to construct (feature priority), how to build it, and the outcome's success or failure. To give the best value to new and existing users, track product metrics.
Why should a product manager monitor metrics?
to assist your users in having a "aha" moment
To inform you of which features are frequently used by users and which are not
To assess the effectiveness of a product feature
To aid in enhancing client onboarding and retention
To assist you in identifying areas throughout the user journey where customers are satisfied or dissatisfied
to determine the percentage of returning users and determine the reasons for their return
📈 What Metrics Ought a Product Manager to Monitor?
What indicators should a product manager watch to monitor product health? The metrics to follow change based on the industry, business stage (early, growth, late), consumer needs, and company goals. A startup should focus more on conversion, activation, and active user engagement than revenue growth and retention. The company hasn't found product-market fit or discovered what features drive customer value.
Depending on your use case, company goals, or business stage, here are some important product metric buckets:
All measurements shouldn't be used simultaneously. It depends on your business goals and what value means for your users, then selecting what metrics to track to see if they get it.
Some KPIs are more beneficial to track, independent of industry or customer type. To prevent recording vanity metrics, product managers must clearly specify the types of metrics they should track. Here's how to segment metrics:
The North Star Metric, also known as the Focus Metric, is the indicator and aid in keeping track of the top value you provide to users.
Primary/Level 1 Metrics: These metrics should either add to the north star metric or be used to determine whether it is moving in the appropriate direction. They are metrics that support the north star metric.
These measures serve as leading indications for your north star and Level 2 metrics. You ought to have been aware of certain problems with your L2 measurements prior to the North star metric modifications.
North Star Metric
This is the key metric. A good north star metric measures customer value. It emphasizes your product's longevity. Many organizations fail to grow because they confuse north star measures with other indicators. A good focus metric should touch all company teams and be tracked forever. If a company gives its customers outstanding value, growth and success are inevitable. How do we measure this value?
A north star metric has these benefits:
Customer Obsession: It promotes a culture of customer value throughout the entire organization.
Consensus: Everyone can quickly understand where the business is at and can promptly make improvements, according to consensus.
Growth: It provides a tool to measure the company's long-term success. Do you think your company will last for a long time?
How can I pick a reliable North Star Metric?
Some fear a single metric. Ensure product leaders can objectively determine a north star metric. Your company's focus metric should meet certain conditions. Here are a few:
A good focus metric should reflect value and, as such, should be closely related to the point at which customers obtain the desired value from your product. For instance, the quick delivery to your home is a value proposition of UberEats. The value received from a delivery would be a suitable focal metric to use. While counting orders is alluring, the quantity of successfully completed positive review orders would make a superior north star statistic. This is due to the fact that a client who placed an order but received a defective or erratic delivery is not benefiting from Uber Eats. By tracking core value gain, which is the number of purchases that resulted in satisfied customers, we are able to track not only the total number of orders placed during a specific time period but also the core value proposition.
Focus metrics need to be quantifiable; they shouldn't only be feelings or states; they need to be actionable. A smart place to start is by counting how many times an activity has been completed.
A great focus metric is one that can be measured within predetermined time limits; otherwise, you are not measuring at all. The company can improve that measure more quickly by having time-bound focus metrics. Measuring and accounting for progress over set time periods is the only method to determine whether or not you are moving in the right path. You can then evaluate your metrics for today and yesterday. It's generally not a good idea to use a year as a time frame. Ideally, depending on the nature of your organization and the measure you are focusing on, you want to take into account on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.
Everyone in the firm has the potential to affect it: A short glance at the well-known AAARRR funnel, also known as the Pirate Metrics, reveals that various teams inside the organization have an impact on the funnel. Ideally, the NSM should be impacted if changes are made to one portion of the funnel. Consider how the growth team in your firm is enhancing customer retention. This would have a good effect on the north star indicator because at this stage, a repeat client is probably being satisfied on a regular basis. Additionally, if the opposite were true and a client churned, it would have a negative effect on the focus metric.
It ought to be connected to the business's long-term success: The direction of sustainability would be indicated by a good north star metric. A company's lifeblood is product demand and revenue, so it's critical that your NSM points in the direction of sustainability. If UberEats can effectively increase the monthly total of happy client orders, it will remain in operation indefinitely.
Many product teams make the mistake of focusing on revenue. When the bottom line is emphasized, a company's goal moves from giving value to extracting money from customers. A happy consumer will stay and pay for your service. Customer lifetime value always exceeds initial daily, monthly, or weekly revenue.
Great North Star Metrics Examples
🥇 Basic/L1 Metrics:
The NSM is broad and focuses on providing value for users, while the primary metric is product/feature focused and utilized to drive the focus metric or signal its health. The primary statistic is team-specific, whereas the north star metric is company-wide. For UberEats' NSM, the marketing team may measure the amount of quality food vendors who sign up using email marketing. With quality vendors, more orders will be satisfied. Shorter feedback loops and unambiguous team assignments make L1 metrics more actionable and significant in the immediate term.
🥈 Supporting L2 metrics:
These are supporting metrics to the L1 and focus metrics. Location, demographics, or features are examples of L1 metrics. UberEats' supporting metrics might be the number of sales emails sent to food vendors, the number of opens, and the click-through rate. Secondary metrics are low-level and evident, and they relate into primary and north star measurements. UberEats needs a high email open rate to attract high-quality food vendors. L2 is a leading sign for L1.
Where can I find product metrics?
How can I measure in-app usage and activity now that I know what metrics to track? Enter product analytics. Product analytics tools evaluate and improve product management parameters that indicate a product's health from a user's perspective.
Various analytics tools on the market supply product insight. From page views and user flows through A/B testing, in-app walkthroughs, and surveys. Depending on your use case and necessity, you may combine tools to see how users engage with your product. Gainsight, MixPanel, Amplitude, Google Analytics, FullStory, Heap, and Pendo are product tools.
This article isn't sponsored and doesn't market product analytics tools. When choosing an analytics tool, consider the following:
Tools for tracking your Focus, L1, and L2 measurements
Adaptations to include external data sources and other products
Usability and the interface
An investment in the appropriate tool pays off. To choose the correct metrics to track, you must first understand your business need and what value means to your users. Metrics and analytics are crucial for any tech product's growth. It shows how your business is doing and how to best serve users.
14 days ago
Lessons on Leadership from the Dancing Guy
This is arguably the best three-minute demonstration I've ever seen of anything. Derek Sivers turns a shaky video of a lone dancing guy at a music festival into a leadership lesson.
A leader must have the courage to stand alone and appear silly. But what he's doing is so straightforward that it's almost instructive. This is critical. You must be simple to follow!
Now comes the first follower, who plays an important role: he publicly demonstrates how to follow. The leader embraces him as an equal, so it's no longer about the leader — it's about them, plural. He's inviting his friends to join him. It takes courage to be the first follower! You stand out and dare to be mocked. Being a first follower is a style of leadership that is underappreciated. The first follower elevates a lone nut to the position of leader. If the first follower is the spark that starts the fire, the leader is the flint.
This link was sent to me by @ottmark, who noted its resemblance to Kurt Vonnegut's three categories of specialists required for revolution.
The rarest of these specialists, he claims, is an actual genius – a person capable generating seemingly wonderful ideas that are not widely known. "A genius working alone is generally dismissed as a crazy," he claims.
The second type of specialist is much easier to find: a highly intellectual person in good standing in his or her community who understands and admires the genius's new ideas and can attest that the genius is not insane. "A person like him working alone can only crave loudly for changes, but fail to say what their shapes should be," Slazinger argues.
Jeff Veen reduced the three personalities to "the inventor, the investor, and the evangelist" on Twitter.
15 days ago
Raising the Bar on Your 1:1s
Managers spend much time in 1:1s. Most team members meet with supervisors regularly. 1:1s can help create relationships and tackle tough topics. Few appreciate the 1:1 format's potential. Most of the time, that potential is spent on small talk, surface-level updates, and ranting (Ugh, the marketing team isn’t stepping up the way I want them to).
What if you used that time to have deeper conversations and important insights? What if change was easy?
This post introduces a new 1:1 format to help you dive deeper, faster, and develop genuine relationships without losing impact.
A 1:1 is a chat, you would assume. Why use structure to talk to a coworker? Go! I know how to talk to people. I can write. I've always written. Also, This article was edited by Zoe.
Before you discard something, ask yourself if there's a good reason not to try anything new. Is the 1:1 only a talk, or do you want extra benefits? Try the steps below to discover more.
I. Reflection (5 minutes)
Context-free, broad comments waste time and are useless. Instead, give team members 5 minutes to write these 3 prompts.
What is decent but could be improved?
What is broken or missing?
Why these? They encourage people to be honest about all their experiences. Answering these questions helps people realize something isn't working. These prompts let people consider what's working.
Why take notes? Because you get more in less time. Will you feel awkward sitting quietly while your coworker writes? Probably. Persevere. Multi-task. Take a break from your afternoon meeting marathon. Any awkwardness will pay off.
What happens? After a few minutes of light conversation, create a template like the one given here and have team members fill in their replies. You can pre-share the template (with the caveat that this isn’t meant to take much prep time). Do this with your coworker: Answer the prompts. Everyone can benefit from pondering and obtaining guidance.
This step's output.
Part II: Talk (10-20 minutes)
Most individuals can explain what they see but not what's behind an answer. You don't like a meeting. Why not? Marketing partnership is difficult. What makes working with them difficult? I don't recommend slandering coworkers. Consider how your meetings, decisions, and priorities make work harder. The excellent stuff too. You want to know what's humming so you can reproduce the magic.
First, recognize some facts.
Real power dynamics exist. To encourage individuals to be honest, you must provide a safe environment and extend clear invites. Even then, it may take a few 1:1s for someone to feel secure enough to go there in person. It is part of your responsibility to admit that it is normal.
Curiosity and self-disclosure are crucial. Most leaders have received training to present themselves as the authorities. However, you will both benefit more from the dialogue if you can be open and honest about your personal experience, ask questions out of real curiosity, and acknowledge the pertinent sacrifices you're making as a leader.
Honesty without bias is difficult and important. Due to concern for the feelings of others, people frequently hold back. Or if they do point anything out, they do so in a critical manner. The key is to be open and unapologetic about what you observe while not presuming that your viewpoint is correct and that of the other person is incorrect.
Let's go into some prompts (based on genuine conversations):
“What do you notice across your answers?”
“What about the way you/we/they do X, Y, or Z is working well?”
“ Will you say more about item X in ‘What’s not working?’”
“I’m surprised there isn’t anything about Z. Why is that?”
“All of us tend to play some role in maintaining certain patterns. How might you/we be playing a role in this pattern persisting?”
“How might the way we meet, make decisions, or collaborate play a role in what’s currently happening?”
Consider the preceding example. What about the Monday meeting isn't working? Why? or What about the way we work with marketing makes collaboration harder? Remember to share your honest observations!
Third section: observe patterns (10-15 minutes)
Leaders desire to empower their people but don't know how. We also have many preconceptions about what empowerment means to us and how it works. The next phase in this 1:1 format will assist you and your team member comprehend team power and empowerment. This understanding can help you support and shift your team member's behavior, especially where you disagree.
How to? After discussing the stated responses, ask each team member what they can control, influence, and not control. Mark their replies. You can do the same, adding colors where you disagree.
This step's output.
Next, consider the color constellation. Discuss these questions:
Is one color much more prevalent than the other? Why, if so?
Are the colors for the "what's working," "what's fine," and "what's not working" categories clearly distinct? Why, if so?
Do you have any disagreements? If yes, specifically where does your viewpoint differ? What activities do you object to? (Remember, there is no right or wrong in this. Give explicit details and ask questions with curiosity.)
Example: Based on the colors, you can ask, Is the marketing meeting's quality beyond your control? Were our marketing partners consulted? Are there any parts of team decisions we can control? We can't control people, but have we explored another decision-making method? How can we collaborate and generate governance-related information to reduce work, even if the requirement for prep can't be eliminated?
Consider the top one or two topics for this conversation. No 1:1 can cover everything, and that's OK. Focus on the present.
Part IV: Determine the next step (5 minutes)
Last, examine what this conversation means for you and your team member. It's easy to think we know the next moves when we don't.
Like what? You and your teammate answer these questions.
What does this signify moving ahead for me? What can I do to change this? Make requests, for instance, and see how people respond before thinking they won't be responsive.
What demands do I have on other people or my partners? What should I do first? E.g. Make a suggestion to marketing that we hold a monthly retrospective so we can address problems and exchange input more frequently. Include it on the meeting's agenda for next Monday.
Close the 1:1 by sharing what you noticed about the chat. Observations? Learn anything?
Yourself, you, and the 1:1
As a leader, you either reinforce or disrupt habits. Try this template if you desire greater ownership, empowerment, or creativity. Consider how you affect surrounding dynamics. How can you expect others to try something new in high-stakes scenarios, like meetings with cross-functional partners or senior stakeholders, if you won't? How can you expect deep thought and relationship if you don't encourage it in 1:1s? What pattern could this new format disrupt or reinforce?
Fight reluctance. First attempts won't be ideal, and that's OK. You'll only learn by trying.
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9 days ago
In 2022, can a lone developer be able to successfully establish a SaaS product?
In the early 2000s, I began developing SaaS. I helped launch an internet fax service that delivered faxes to email inboxes. Back then, it saved consumers money and made the procedure easier.
Google AdWords was young then. Anyone might establish a new website, spend a few hundred dollars on keywords, and see dozens of new paying clients every day. That's how we launched our new SaaS, and these clients stayed for years. Our early ROI was sky-high.
The situation changed dramatically after 15 years. Our paid advertising cost $200-$300 for every new customer. Paid advertising takes three to four years to repay.
Fortunately, we still had tens of thousands of loyal clients. Good organic rankings gave us new business. We needed less sponsored traffic to run a profitable SaaS firm.
Is it still possible?
Since selling our internet fax firm, I've dreamed about starting a SaaS company. One I could construct as a lone developer and progressively grow a dedicated customer base, as I did before in a small team.
It seemed impossible to me. Solo startups couldn't afford paid advertising. SEO was tough. Even the worst SaaS startup ideas attracted VC funding. How could I compete with startups that could hire great talent and didn't need to make money for years (or ever)?
The One and Only Way to Learn
After years of talking myself out of SaaS startup ideas, I decided to develop and launch one. I needed to know if a solitary developer may create a SaaS app in 2022.
Thus, I did. I invented webwriter.ai, an AI-powered writing tool for website content, from hero section headlines to blog posts, this year. I soft-launched an MVP in July.
Considering the Issue
Now that I've developed my own fully capable SaaS app for site builders and developers, I wonder if it's still possible. Can webwriter.ai be successful?
I know webwriter.ai's proposal is viable because Jasper.ai and Grammarly are also AI-powered writing tools. With competition comes validation.
To Win, Differentiate
To compete with well-funded established brands, distinguish to stand out to a portion of the market. So I can speak directly to a target user, unlike larger competition.
I created webwriter.ai to help web builders and designers produce web content rapidly. This may be enough differentiation for now.
When paid search isn't an option, we get inventive. There are more tools than ever to promote a new website.
on social media (Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn)
Marketing with content that is compelling
Listings in directories
references made in blog articles and on other websites
The Beginning of the Journey
As I've labored to construct my software, I've pondered a new mantra. Not sure where that originated from, but I like it. I'll live by it and teach my kids:
“Do the work.”
1 month ago
Dehumanization Against Anthropomorphization
We've fought for humanity's sake. We need equilibrium.
We live in a world of opposites (black/white, up/down, love/hate), thus life is a game of achieving equilibrium. We have a universe of paradoxes within ourselves, not just in physics.
Individually, you balance your intellect and heart, but as a species, we're full of polarities. They might be gentle and compassionate, then ruthless and unsympathetic.
We desire for connection so much that we personify non-human beings and objects while turning to violence and hatred toward others. These contrasts baffle me. Will we find balance?
Assigning human-like features or bonding with objects is common throughout childhood. Cartoons often give non-humans human traits. Adults still anthropomorphize this trait. Researchers agree we start doing it as infants and continue throughout life.
Humans of all ages are good at humanizing stuff. We build emotional attachments to weather events, inanimate objects, animals, plants, and locales. Gods, goddesses, and fictitious figures are anthropomorphized.
Cast Away, starring Tom Hanks, features anthropization. Hanks is left on an island, where he builds an emotional bond with a volleyball he calls Wilson.
We became emotionally invested in Wilson, including myself.
Why do we do it, though?
Our instincts and traits helped us survive and thrive. Our brain is alert to other people's thoughts, feelings, and intentions to assist us to determine who is safe or hazardous. We can think about others and our own mental states, or about thinking. This is the Theory of Mind.
Neurologically, specialists believe the Theory of Mind has to do with our mirror neurons, which exhibit the same activity while executing or witnessing an action.
Mirror neurons may contribute to anthropization, but they're not the only ones. In 2021, Harvard Medical School researchers at MGH and MIT colleagues published a study on the brain's notion of mind.
“Our study provides evidence to support theory of mind by individual neurons. Until now, it wasn’t clear whether or how neurons were able to perform these social cognitive computations.”
Neurons have particular functions, researchers found. Others encode information that differentiates one person's beliefs from another's. Some neurons reflect tale pieces, whereas others aren't directly involved in social reasoning but may multitask contributing factors.
Combining neuronal data gives a precise portrait of another's beliefs and comprehension. The theory of mind describes how we judge and understand each other in our species, and it likely led to anthropomorphism. Neuroscience indicates identical brain regions react to human or non-human behavior, like mirror neurons.
Some academics believe we're wired for connection, which explains why we anthropomorphize. When we're alone, we may anthropomorphize non-humans.
Humanizing non-human entities may make them deserving of moral care, according to another theory. Animamorphizing something makes it responsible for its actions and deserves punishments or rewards. This mental shift is typically apparent in our connections with pets and leads to deanthropomorphization.
Dehumanizing involves denying someone or anything ethical regard, the opposite of anthropomorphizing.
Dehumanization occurs throughout history. We do it to everything in nature, including ourselves. We experiment on and torture animals. We enslave, hate, and harm other groups of people.
Race, immigrant status, dress choices, sexual orientation, social class, religion, gender, politics, need I go on? Our degrading behavior is promoting fascism and division everywhere.
Dehumanizing someone or anything reduces their agency and value. Many assume they're immune to this feature, but tests disagree.
It's inevitable. Humans are wired to have knee-jerk reactions to differences. We are programmed to dehumanize others, and it's easier than we'd like to admit.
Why do we do it, though?
Dehumanizing others is simpler than humanizing things for several reasons. First, we consider everything unusual as harmful, which has helped our species survive for hundreds of millions of years. Our propensity to be distrustful of others, like our fear of the unknown, promotes an us-vs.-them mentality.
Since WWII, various studies have been done to explain how or why the holocaust happened. How did so many individuals become radicalized to commit such awful actions and feel morally justified? Researchers quickly showed how easily the mind can turn gloomy.
The us-versus-them attitude is natural and even young toddlers act on it. Without a relationship, empathy is more difficult.
It's terrifying how quickly dehumanizing behavior becomes commonplace. The current pandemic is an example. Most countries no longer count deaths. Long Covid is a major issue, with predictions of a handicapped tsunami in the future years. Mostly, we shrug.
In 2020, we panicked. Remember everyone's caution? Now Long Covid is ruining more lives, threatening to disable an insane amount of our population for months or their entire lives.
There's little research. Experts can't even classify or cure it. The people should be outraged, but most have ceased caring. They're over covid.
We're encouraged to find a method to live with a terrible pandemic that will cause years of damage. People aren't worried about infection anymore. They shrug and say, "We'll all get it eventually," then hope they're not one of the 30% who develops Long Covid.
We can correct course before further damage. Because we can recognize our urges and biases, we're not captives to them. We can think critically about our thoughts and behaviors, then attempt to improve. We can recognize our deficiencies and work to attain balance.
We're currently attempting to find equilibrium between opposites. It's superficial to defend extremes by stating we're only human or wired this way because both imply we have no control.
Being human involves having self-awareness, and by being careful of our thoughts and acts, we can find balance and recognize opposites' purpose.
Extreme anthropomorphizing and dehumanizing isolate and imperil us. We anthropomorphize because we desire connection and dehumanize because we're terrified, frequently of the connection we crave. Will we find balance?
4 months ago
Investors can bet big on almost anything on a new prediction market.
Kalshi allows five-figure bets on the Grammys, the next Covid wave, and future SEC commissioners. Worst-case scenario
On Election Day 2020, two young entrepreneurs received a call from the CFTC chairman. Luana Lopes Lara and Tarek Mansour spent 18 months trying to start a new type of financial exchange. Instead of betting on stock prices or commodity futures, people could trade instruments tied to real-world events, such as legislation, the weather, or the Oscar winner.
Heath Tarbert, a Trump appointee, shouted "Congratulations." "You're competing with 1840s-era markets. I'm sure you'll become a powerhouse too."
Companies had tried to introduce similar event markets in the US for years, but Tarbert's agency, the CFTC, said no, arguing they were gambling and prone to cheating. Now the agency has reversed course, approving two 24-year-olds who will have first-mover advantage in what could become a huge new asset class. Kalshi Inc. raised $30 million from venture capitalists within weeks of Tarbert's call, his representative says. Mansour, 26, believes this will be bigger than crypto.
Anyone who's read The Wisdom of Crowds knows prediction markets' potential. Well-designed markets can help draw out knowledge from disparate groups, and research shows that when money is at stake, people make better predictions. Lopes Lara calls it a "bullshit tax." That's why Google, Microsoft, and even the US Department of Defense use prediction markets internally to guide decisions, and why university-linked political betting sites like PredictIt sometimes outperform polls.
Regulators feared Wall Street-scale trading would encourage investors to manipulate reality. If the stakes are high enough, traders could pressure congressional staffers to stall a bill or bet on whether Kanye West's new album will drop this week. When Lopes Lara and Mansour pitched the CFTC, senior regulators raised these issues. Politically appointed commissioners overruled their concerns, and one later joined Kalshi's board.
Will Kanye’s new album come out next week? Yes or no?
Kalshi's victory was due more to lobbying and legal wrangling than to Silicon Valley-style innovation. Lopes Lara and Mansour didn't invent anything; they changed a well-established concept's governance. The result could usher in a new era of market-based enlightenment or push Wall Street's destructive tendencies into the real world.
If Kalshi's founders lacked experience to bolster their CFTC application, they had comical youth success. Lopes Lara studied ballet at the Brazilian Bolshoi before coming to the US. Mansour won France's math Olympiad. They bonded over their work ethic in an MIT computer science class.
Lopes Lara had the idea for Kalshi while interning at a New York hedge fund. When the traders around her weren't working, she noticed they were betting on the news: Would Apple hit a trillion dollars? Kylie Jenner? "It was anything," she says.
Are mortgage rates going up? Yes or no?
Mansour saw the business potential when Lopes Lara suggested it. He interned at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., helping investors prepare for the UK leaving the EU. Goldman sold clients complex stock-and-derivative combinations. As he discussed it with Lopes Lara, they agreed that investors should hedge their risk by betting on Brexit itself rather than an imperfect proxy.
Lopes Lara and Mansour hypothesized how a marketplace might work. They settled on a "event contract," a binary-outcome instrument like "Will inflation hit 5% by the end of the month?" The contract would settle at $1 (if the event happened) or zero (if it didn't), but its price would fluctuate based on market sentiment. After a good debate, a politician's election odds may rise from 50 to 55. Kalshi would charge a commission on every trade and sell data to traders, political campaigns, businesses, and others.
In October 2018, five months after graduation, the pair flew to California to compete in a hackathon for wannabe tech founders organized by the Silicon Valley incubator Y Combinator. They built a website in a day and a night and presented it to entrepreneurs the next day. Their prototype barely worked, but they won a three-month mentorship program and $150,000. Michael Seibel, managing director of Y Combinator, said of their idea, "I had to take a chance!"
Will there be another moon landing by 2025?
Seibel's skepticism was rooted in America's historical wariness of gambling. Roulette, poker, and other online casino games are largely illegal, and sports betting was only legal in a few states until May 2018. Kalshi as a risk-hedging platform rather than a bookmaker seemed like a good idea, but convincing the CFTC wouldn't be easy. In 2012, the CFTC said trading on politics had no "economic purpose" and was "contrary to the public interest."
Lopes Lara and Mansour cold-called 60 Googled lawyers during their time at Y Combinator. Everyone advised quitting. Mansour recalls the pain. Jeff Bandman, a former CFTC official, helped them navigate the agency and its characters.
When they weren’t busy trying to recruit lawyers, Lopes Lara and Mansour were meeting early-stage investors. Alfred Lin of Sequoia Capital Operations LLC backed Airbnb, DoorDash, and Uber Technologies. Lin told the founders their idea could capitalize on retail trading and challenge how the financial world manages risk. "Come back with regulatory approval," he said.
In the US, even small bets on most events were once illegal. Under the Commodity Exchange Act, the CFTC can stop exchanges from listing contracts relating to "terrorism, assassination, war" and "gaming" if they are "contrary to the public interest," which was often the case.
Will subway ridership return to normal? Yes or no?
In 1988, as academic interest in the field grew, the agency allowed the University of Iowa to set up a prediction market for research purposes, as long as it didn't make a profit or advertise and limited bets to $500. PredictIt, the biggest and best-known political betting platform in the US, also got an exemption thanks to an association with Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. Today, it's a sprawling marketplace with its own subculture and lingo. PredictIt users call it "Rules Cuck Panther" when they lose on a technicality. Major news outlets cite PredictIt's odds on Discord and the Star Spangled Gamblers podcast.
CFTC limits PredictIt bets to $850. To keep traders happy, PredictIt will often run multiple variations of the same question, listing separate contracts for two dozen Democratic primary candidates, for example. A trader could have more than $10,000 riding on a single outcome. Some of the site's traders are current or former campaign staffers who can answer questions like "How many tweets will Donald Trump post from Nov. 20 to 27?" and "When will Anthony Scaramucci's role as White House communications director end?"
According to PredictIt co-founder John Phillips, politicians help explain the site's accuracy. "Prediction markets work well and are accurate because they attract people with superior information," he said in a 2016 podcast. “In the financial stock market, it’s called inside information.”
Will Build Back Better pass? Yes or no?
Trading on nonpublic information is illegal outside of academia, which presented a dilemma for Lopes Lara and Mansour. Kalshi's forecasts needed to be accurate. Kalshi must eliminate insider trading as a regulated entity. Lopes Lara and Mansour wanted to build a high-stakes PredictIt without the anarchy or blurred legal lines—a "New York Stock Exchange for Events." First, they had to convince regulators event trading was safe.
When Lopes Lara and Mansour approached the CFTC in the spring of 2019, some officials in the Division of Market Oversight were skeptical, according to interviews with people involved in the process. For all Kalshi's talk of revolutionizing finance, this was just a turbocharged version of something that had been rejected before.
The DMO couldn't see the big picture. The staff review was supposed to ensure Kalshi could complete a checklist, "23 Core Principles of a Designated Contract Market," which included keeping good records and having enough money. The five commissioners decide. With Trump as president, three of them were ideologically pro-market.
Lopes Lara, Mansour, and their lawyer Bandman, an ex-CFTC official, answered the DMO's questions while lobbying the commissioners on Zoom about the potential of event markets to mitigate risks and make better decisions. Before each meeting, they would write a script and memorize it word for word.
Will student debt be forgiven? Yes or no?
Several prediction markets that hadn't sought regulatory approval bolstered Kalshi's case. Polymarket let customers bet hundreds of thousands of dollars anonymously using cryptocurrencies, making it hard to track. Augur, which facilitates private wagers between parties using blockchain, couldn't regulate bets and hadn't stopped users from betting on assassinations. Kalshi, by comparison, argued it was doing everything right. (The CFTC fined Polymarket $1.4 million for operating an unlicensed exchange in January 2022. Polymarket says it's now compliant and excited to pioneer smart contract-based financial solutions with regulators.
Kalshi was approved unanimously despite some DMO members' concerns about event contracts' riskiness. "Once they check all the boxes, they're in," says a CFTC insider.
Three months after CFTC approval, Kalshi announced funding from Sequoia, Charles Schwab, and Henry Kravis. Sequoia's Lin, who joined the board, said Tarek, Luana, and team created a new way to invest and engage with the world.
The CFTC hadn't asked what markets the exchange planned to run since. After approval, Lopes Lara and Mansour had the momentum. Kalshi's March list of 30 proposed contracts caused chaos at the DMO. The division handles exchanges that create two or three new markets a year. Kalshi’s business model called for new ones practically every day.
Uncontroversial proposals included weather and GDP questions. Others, on the initial list and later, were concerning. DMO officials feared Covid-19 contracts amounted to gambling on human suffering, which is why war and terrorism markets are banned. (Similar logic doomed ex-admiral John Poindexter's Policy Analysis Market, a Bush-era plan to uncover intelligence by having security analysts bet on Middle East events.) Regulators didn't see how predicting the Grammy winners was different from betting on the Patriots to win the Super Bowl. Who, other than John Legend, would need to hedge the best R&B album winner?
Event contracts raised new questions for the DMO's product review team. Regulators could block gaming contracts that weren't in the public interest under the Commodity Exchange Act, but no one had defined gaming. It was unclear whether the CFTC had a right or an obligation to consider whether a contract was in the public interest. How was it to determine public interest? Another person familiar with the CFTC review says, "It was a mess." The agency didn't comment.
CFTC staff feared some event contracts could be cheated. Kalshi wanted to run a bee-endangerment market. The DMO pushed back, saying it saw two problems symptomatic of the asset class: traders could press government officials for information, and officials could delay adding the insects to the list to cash in.
The idea that traders might manipulate prediction markets wasn't paranoid. In 2013, academics David Rothschild and Rajiv Sethi found that an unidentified party lost $7 million buying Mitt Romney contracts on Intrade, a now-defunct, unlicensed Irish platform, in the runup to the 2012 election. The authors speculated that the trader, whom they dubbed the “Romney Whale,” may have been looking to boost morale and keep donations coming in.
Kalshi said manipulation and insider trading are risks for any market. It built a surveillance system and said it would hire a team to monitor it. "People trade on events all the time—they just use options and other instruments. This brings everything into the open, Mansour says. Kalshi didn't include election contracts, a red line for CFTC Democrats.
Lopes Lara and Mansour were ready to launch kalshi.com that summer, but the DMO blocked them. Product reviewers were frustrated by spending half their time on an exchange that represented a tiny portion of the derivatives market. Lopes Lara and Mansour pressed politically appointed commissioners during the impasse.
Tarbert, the chairman, had moved on, but Kalshi found a new supporter in Republican Brian Quintenz, a crypto-loving former hedge fund manager. He was unmoved by the DMO's concerns, arguing that speculation on Kalshi's proposed events was desirable and the agency had no legal standing to prevent it. He supported a failed bid to allow NFL futures earlier this year. Others on the commission were cautious but supportive. Given the law's ambiguity, they worried they'd be on shaky ground if Kalshi sued if they blocked a contract. Without a permanent chairman, the agency lacked leadership.
To block a contract, DMO staff needed a majority of commissioners' support, which they didn't have in all but a few cases. "We didn't have the votes," a reviewer says, paraphrasing Hamilton. By the second half of 2021, new contract requests were arriving almost daily at the DMO, and the demoralized and overrun division eventually accepted defeat and stopped fighting back. By the end of the year, three senior DMO officials had left the agency, making it easier for Kalshi to list its contracts unimpeded.
Today, Kalshi is growing. 32 employees work in a SoHo office with big windows and exposed brick. Quintenz, who left the CFTC 10 months after Kalshi was approved, is on its board. He joined because he was interested in the market's hedging and risk management opportunities.
Mid-May, the company's website had 75 markets, such as "Will Q4 GDP be negative?" Will NASA land on the moon by 2025? The exchange recently reached 2 million weekly contracts, a jump from where it started but still a small number compared to other futures exchanges. Early adopters are PredictIt and Polymarket fans. Bets on the site are currently capped at $25,000, but Kalshi hopes to increase that to $100,000 and beyond.
With the regulatory drawbridge down, Lopes Lara and Mansour must move quickly. Chicago's CME Group Inc. plans to offer index-linked event contracts. Kalshi will release a smartphone app to attract customers. After that, it hopes to partner with a big brokerage. Sequoia is a major investor in Robinhood Markets Inc. Robinhood users could have access to Kalshi so that after buying GameStop Corp. shares, they'd be prompted to bet on the Oscars or the next Fed commissioner.
Some, like Illinois Democrat Sean Casten, accuse Robinhood and its competitors of gamifying trading to encourage addiction, but Kalshi doesn't seem worried. Mansour says Kalshi's customers can't bet more than they've deposited, making debt difficult. Eventually, he may introduce leveraged bets.
Tension over event contracts recalls another CFTC episode. Brooksley Born proposed regulating the financial derivatives market in 1994. Alan Greenspan and others in the government opposed her, saying it would stifle innovation and push capital overseas. Unrestrained, derivatives grew into a trillion-dollar industry until 2008, when they sparked the financial crisis.
Today, with a midterm election looming, it seems reasonable to ask whether Kalshi plans to get involved. Elections have historically been the biggest draw in prediction markets, with 125 million shares traded on PredictIt for 2020. “We can’t discuss specifics,” Mansour says. “All I can say is, you know, we’re always working on expanding the universe of things that people can trade on.”
Any election contracts would need CFTC approval, which may be difficult with three Democratic commissioners. A Republican president would change the equation.