Getting to know Jobs-to-be-done

For some time now I’ve been meaning to get a deeper understanding of the “jobs-to-be-done” framework.  I was familiar with Clay Christensen’s famous milkshake example and the general idea that “if you understand the job that the customer has hired your product to do, then how to improve your product becomes obvious”.  But I was still left wondering, is it a research technique I can apply easily? How important is it to me as a Product Manager? Or is it just the latest buzzword for something I’m already doing during product development? 

Then I stumbled onto this Full Stack Radio podcast featuring Ryan Singer of Basecamp which acted as the catalyst for exploring the next level of understanding about the meaning and application of JTBD. 

I definitely recommend listening to the podcast to get the full flavor of it, but here are some of the major nuggets that I took away from it:

JTBD gives you a rich understanding of customer demand

It is a technique that provides a new point of view for talking to customers that elicits insights about what they are trying to do. It helps determine causality, uncovering events and triggers that led the customer to your product over alternatives.  Ultimately it reduces any mismatch between what you think you are selling and what the customer is trying to buy.

JTBD helps you shift gears from "space thinking” to “time thinking”

General understanding of the importance of usability and UX has come a long way in the last 10 years, but it tends to focus on how things are arranged on a static page. JTBD shifts the focus to thinking in terms of a timeline, and considering where your product fits into the customer’s journey. Where has the user come from? Where are they going next? How can you help the get from A to B? Once you understand the flow, you can go back to layout and you’ll have a more holistic context in which to make design and prioritisation decisions.

JTBD helps you avoid obsessing about product features and 'affordances' 

It is easy to get sucked into paying too much attention to artificial constructs like your supposed product category and benchmarking product specs and features against competitors. But these things can take you out of alignment with your customer as they don’t reflect how a customer approaches their need and i.e. your product.  Ryan used the example of a conference call product, where the company was worried about bandwidth and other technical features, but what customers actually cared about was what they were going to have to do to get adoption from staff and if installation is required.  Similarly it’s easy to spend too much time obsessing about the styling and the minutiae of the user interface. You can have a great design and even a great UX, but that doesn’t help if its not geared to achieving the right outcomes for the customer. JTBD brings you back to the customer’s burning itch so that you invest effort appropriately on activities that will actually drive results.

The concepts of customer 'progress' and 'forces' in the JTBD context

It is important to understand how the customer defines progress towards getting the job done. Viewing things as a timeline helps unpack the various points the customer was struggling to make progress, which combined with identifying the forces acting on the customer at these moments can unearth significant product development insights.  Or as beautifully put by #JTBD radio folks "any struggling moment is the seed for innovation". This concept even goes beyond the moment of purchase.  With gym memberships for example, most likely the job the customer hired the gym membership for isn’t done when a customer signs up.  Most likely the customer had loftier goals to do with fitness, health or social needs that the gym’s product must deliver on over time. Forces that lead to a customer changing behaviour and towards a new gym product could be the push from concerns over weight or health, or the pull of an attractive new gym. Forces that work against a customer from making progress could be anxieties stopping them from going to the gym, such as unfamiliar classes or body issues, or old habits like walking up at a particular time.

JTBD over Personas 

A lot of research tools are used to convince others in the organisation that it is safe to proceed, rather than actually revealing new insights about customers to help you do your job.  Personas can often fall into that category, or at least be less useful for the purposes of understanding where to focus design and development resources to meet customer needs.

Is Munchery profitable? A guesstimate.

Last week I received an email from Munchery titled "We're Lowering Prices!".  I was already incredulous at their ability to be profitable given such low prices (typically between $9-13 for mains) and great value-for-money product.  So news of another price drop prompted me to delve into this conundrum more deeply.  Do they have a financially sustainable future beyond cash injections from VCs?  Or are they heading the way of Webvan - grocery delivery failure of the dot com bubble? 

 Screenshot from email

Screenshot from email

I'd also read cynical articles like this one that go beyond the profitability question to warn that there may be a gaping hole left in the local economy if these businesses go down. The story goes something like this:  Food delivery startups are operating with predatory pricing.  Deep-pocketed VCs are funding them to run at cost or at a loss, sacrificing short-term profits in order to offer low prices to grow their customer base hoping for a future miracle. 'The local sandwich shop' can't match prices, loses customers and eventually folds.  This is a worrying (albeit pessimistic) outcome and gave me further impetus to investigate and form an opinion.

So here is a bit of a brain dump, considering Munchery's operations, costs and revenue.  Some of it is based on hard information found on the web, but most is based on my own assumptions.  Either way it has lead me to conclude that they have patiently refined business model to become profitable here in San Francisco and are well poised to role out this secret sauce to replicate their success in other cities.


Munchery's costs would include occupancy costs (renting their 5,600 square foot industrial kitchen), cooking equipment, utilities, raw produce, packaging, menu design and preparation (salaries for "top chefs"), running its delivery network (vehicles, drivers, fuel, logistics) and the rest of their operations (supporting website/app, customer support, daily updates to website content/email marketing etc).  In addition, there is the cost of their social good initiatives - for each meal purchased they donate a meal to the SF Marin Food Bank, and donate to the Conservation Fund to offset carbon emissions.  


If we assume each person orders a main dish and a side or desert that's around a $15 order per person.  At face value, given all the costs listed above it's hard to imagine any profit left.  

But hang on!

There is a flat $2.95 delivery fee so let's assume this offsets delivery costs on average.  Drivers are paid $11 per hour and 56 cents a mile as an incentive to use their own vehicle.  

What does order size do to the equation?  If they focus on increasing order size by targeting families and larger customer groups (e.g. startups) this would help e.g. if average order size is 3 people or $45 per order, it suddenly sounds more plausible to offset costs.  

Obviously there's also lower COGS achieved through economies of scale.  Cost per unit of raw produce and packaging would decrease as scale increases through negotiating better deals with suppliers, buying in bulk etc.  So whilst I may have the price of an individual tuna steak from Wholefoods anchored in my mind at $10, it would be costing them significantly less as part of a $13 prepared seared tuna dish.  That said if they want to use quality local, sustainable farmers, this could prove more difficult to scale, but not impossible depending on supply.  Keeping the number of available menu items to a manageable limit (today I counted 11 "entrees" or mains as the rest of us would say) would mean fewer ingredients but more of them, pushing the needle even further on this one.

Delivering meals chilled rather than hot would give them a huge advantage, presumably allowing them to prepare meals in advance of receiving orders.  Through sophisticated predictive modelling on meal volumes, chefs could do meal prep in large batches, saving time and cost.  There's probably a metric on "meals per chef per day" or something similar.  Cold meals would also help optimise delivery vehicle utilisation further, and enable Munchery to serve a much larger area from one central kitchen than you could for food that has to arrive hot (e.g. Sprig, SpoonRocket).  

Chef recruitment and retention costs may be reduced by giving them incentives beyond salary (which mind you is reportedly 30% higher than average).  They started with independent chefs, but moved to in-house, now with around 8 "resident chefs".  Munchery always mentions the chef behind each dish, and features their chefs in customer comms, giving them a platform to grow their personal brand and cultivating a personal relationship between them and their consumer. In addition, Munchery provides chefs with a shared work space and seemingly more regular hours than average hospitality work.

Marketing and customer acquisition cost is also kept to a minimum focusing on a kind of payment assisted virality.  They seem to permanently run a $20 per referral ($10 for who I tell, $10 for me), rather than above-the-line advertising, and i'm guessing given they offer great value to customers, stickiness would mean on average they make that money back from repeat purchases so CAC is way less than customer lifetime value.

 Always found under the heading "Free Food" for logged in users.

Always found under the heading "Free Food" for logged in users.

Any leftover meals and excess ingredients are presumably not going to waste and are what goes into meeting their "get a meal, give a meal" social good promise relatively cheaply. 

Undoubtably they are also using sophisticated technology and data analytics to optimise supply chain and delivery systems, reduce payment failure and fraud, handle last minute changes in route/order and to track food back to its source for end-to-end supply chain visibility. As part of this, inventory costs would be minimised through some kind of "just-in-time" system, ensuring that most perishable produce arrives at their kitchen as close to preparation as possible.

The mind boggles!  I could go on and on.  I would kill to get behind the curtain and see their current numbers, and financial modelling on how scale affects profitability.  But thinking it through beyond face value, I have a better idea of how Munchery can keep dropping prices, passing on cost savings earned from increased scale and optimisation activities to consumers.  As such they'll continually delight customers, helping acquire and retain them, increasing their customer base.  And if it works in SF, there's no reason it couldn't work in Seattle (where they launched in July), or New York, Los Angeles, Sydney, London or wherever a similar service could work.  

What they've done is essentially create a new category in between restaurants and cooking at home. Satisfied customers such as myself that enjoy this kind of service will now divert some their weekly food budget away from grocery and restaurants as long as they stay healthy, sustainable and convenient.  Competitors will continue to emerge in this new market, as SprigSpoon Rocket and others already have but it would appear Munchery have made a great start to win customers and stay profitable at the same time.

Some interesting stats mainly from Forbes and Fast Company articles: 

  • Daily order volume back in April '14: 1,500 (5,000 meals) according to CEO now "much, much higher than that"
  • Current growth rate 20% month on month
  • Orders per day limit from current SF kitchen: 8,000
  • Current valuation: $180M
  • Last funding round: $28M 
  • Celebrity investors: Jon Favreau, Roy Choi, Eric Ries and Justin Mateen (Tinder)

I also recommend this Medium post from @Kostastavreas featuring a detailed timeline of optimisation activities over their history, and a great graphic representing Munchery's 'blue ocean strategy' in comparison to traditional restaurants.

Napa & Sonoma

Thanksgiving weekend seemed like a great time to spend a leisurely couple of days in Napa.  With zero planning we found a last minute rental car and accommodation in Sonoma and took off. What we discovered is that things operate quite differently from what we're used to touring Australia's wine regions back home.   

Lessons learned:

  • Many wineries require reservation for a tasting, especially the smaller wineries
  • Bring bags of cash if you intend to sample multiple wineries each day.  Wineries tend to charge at least $15 for a tasting or "flight of wines", and rarely refund the tasting fee if you purchase wine
  • Many bundle in a tour and wine education with a tasting bumping up the cost to often $50 
  • Rules vary wildly depending on the winery so it pays to plan ahead

Del Dotto
Beautiful building, 2 minute drive from Napa town centre.  We were told their specialty is a barrel tasting with education on the making process and a tour of their historic caves for $60.  You can also reserve a time for a "bar tasting" (the experience expected in Aussie wineries for free without reservation) for $30, but they were booked out for the day so we left and followed their recommendation to go next door to Whetstone.

Whetstone were able to provide a tasting straight away, but rather than standing at a tasting bar, you are seated like at a restaurant.  You pay $25 for a tasting of four wines, all of which I thought were excellent.   As each wine is poured the server explains each wine in detail, similar to how each course would be presented in a restaurant degustation.  The ambiance was nice but not as casual as we like.

Chimney Rock
Looked nice but alas the golf cart out front gave away that this was on the more commercial side of Napa. They have a range of tour options and a $35 drop-in-any-time tasting at a nice old horseshoe bar, but it was super busy so we moved on without sampling anything.

Robert Sinskey
On the recommendation of one of the staff at Whetstone we set out for Robert Sinsky further north along the Silverado Trail.  Fourth time lucky! This place had the kind of laid-back vibe we were after. Cool crowd, hip and knowledgeable staff and a delightful setting, despite being a temporary tasting bar due to renovations. They even refunded some of the $25 tasting fee after purchasing two bottles. I particularly enjoyed the POV "right bank Bordeaux" style blend.

Opus One & Robert Mondavi (aka Nap-vegas)
These two Napa blockbuster wineries sit opposite each other so thought we'd pop in on the way past. Sadly if they had once had charm this was now replaced with hoards of the bad kind of tourist.  Opus One features just a singular wine to taste for $45 a glass.  I was curious to see what could be worth roughly $5 a sip.  Mondavi had more reasonably priced tasting options, but neither winery had an atmosphere that I remotely wanted to stick around for.


It was worth ignoring the "strictly reservations only" signs and taking the long and windy road past the gates up to the Hanzell winery.  It is a truly gorgeous piece of countryside and homestead, but the signs were indeed correct and the $45 tasting tours were all booked out that day.  We were ushered away without even getting a sniff of wine.

Enticed by a great Foursquare/Yelp reviews and a youthful looking website we dropped into Scribe.  They too required bookings given their size, but were kind enough to pour us a taste of their exceptional riesling and encouraged us to chill out and survey the sweeping landscape in front of the cellar door.  We will definitely be back here for a tasting picnic with friends.

Gundlach Bundschu
Other than featuring a fun, tongue-twister of a name courtesy of being established by a Bavarian family in 1858, this winery boasts a warm and casual walk-in tasting experience.  I enjoyed the wines enough to buy a couple bottles, but the $25 reserve tasting wasn't waved unfortunately.

Situated unassumingly at a cross-roads, Anaba poured some fine wines in a down to earth and friendly atmosphere.  The reasonably priced tasting included among other tasty drops a memorable chardonnay, "Turbine Red" and a sticky as well (I was most satisfied with my choice of the port).

Peter Thiel's Zero to One

zero to one cover.jpg

Zero to One is a kind of wake up call, a rally cry to entrepreneurs to think big, shoot for the stars and create new things (going from 0 to 1) rather than making incremental improvements to what exists already (going from 1 to many).  It takes a fresh approach to the Innovator’s Dilemma dichotomy of sustaining innovation vs disruptive innovation.  

Thiel describes how after centuries of consistent technological breakthroughs, for the last 30 years this has slowed to a crawl outside of IT, primarily because we have drifted towards a dominant ideology of what he calls “indefinite optimism”.  He warns that we need to go back to definite thinking and shift the focus from globalisation to new technology, in order to reach a better future and do more with less. Going from “zero to one” is the path to preserving our future,  without it globalisation is unsustainable.  

The true value of this book is in the contrarian views put forward that challenge dominant business thinking:

  • Avoid competition and build a monopoly - competition is destructive, but a “creative monopoly” provides new products that benefits everybody and sustainable profits for the creator.  Your technology should be at least 10x better than anyone else on a particular dimension.
  • Avoid anything that sounds like a formula - the best paths are new and unknown so as soon as you use commonly held “best practises” you are heading for mere incremental improvement.
  • Success isn’t because of luck or arbitrary advantages - you make your own luck by coming up with definite plans and executing.  Malcolm Gladwell’s theory in Outliers is a product of his origin as a baby boomer.
  • “Lean” is code for unplanned -  leanness is a methodology that resulted as a reaction to the dot com crash.  Without a bold plan it only leads to incremental change.
  • Go for “last mover advantage” - dominate a small niche and scale up towards your ambitious long-term vision.
  • Don’t “disrupt” - if your company’s purpose is in opposition to someone else’s it’s unlikely to be new and it draws attention. Creating is far more important than disrupting for the sake of it. 

Being critical 
At times, Thiel’s attitude strays to the dark side of Silicon Valley culture.  The rest of the world outside of the USA is written-off as pessimists, leaving it up to the US to save the world by being definite optimists.  “MBA types”, consultants, people in finance and any other “suits” are pigeon-holed as agents in opposition to achieving the audacious objective of going from “zero to one”.  And his love of the t-shirt and hoodie startup cult uniform seems to contradict his contrarian thinking.  Can we not demonstrate we’re part of a “tribe of like-minded people fiercely devoted to a company’s mission” and dress smartly simultaneously?

Zero to One vs Lean Startup
Reading these two back to back made the points of tension really pop.  It is unclear whether the digs at “lean” methodologies are aimed at Eric Ries’ Lean Startup exactly, but I felt myself cringe, for example when Thiel ridicules current thinking to “make nothing more than an MVP and iterate our way to success” without rigorous planning.  But on reflection Eric Ries would not advocate that either, he clearly warns that we shouldn’t blindly apply process and promotes planning.  And whilst you iterate a product to optimise and find market fit, it is supported by a vision and a strategy to get there, including things like a business model, product roadmap, plus a view on partners and competitors, and target customers.

It is easy to see why everyone is talking about Zero to One, it certainly gets your attention.  No doubt it will provoke startups to question and debate some of dominant ideas floating around, and hopefully, as a result it will unleash a wave of fresh energy amongst entrepreneurs and the creation of some amazing new innovation and technology.

Top 3 SF runs (so far!)

I've spent a total of 6 weeks in San Francisco to date and gone on over a dozen runs of various distances and in a variety of areas as I've been moving around various Airbnb locales.  Here are my top 3 so far:

1. From Marina district over the Golden Gate Bridge 13km Return

Its hard to beat a run that combines beach, trail and crossing a world icon bridge with a stunning view.  Sydney is the only other city I can think of where this is possible.  It also includes a challenging hill climbing up to the bridge - from the San Francisco Bay Trail via the Battery E Trail according to the map.  I recommend high fiving the concrete pylon at the other end of the bridge at your half way point!

2. Potrero Hill to Ferry Building 12km Return

Living at the top of Potrero Hill the hills are daunting on all sides, but this run proved to be great fun with plenty of variety.  Once you get down to Dogpatch there is a long stretch where you can run freely with no crossings or other interruptions.  Illinois Street takes you to a trail along the edge of the bay, past China Basin, the AT&T Stadium, South Beach Harbour under the Bay Bridge with the Ferry Building at exactly 6km mark.  You then get a nice cardio hammering on the last 2km climbing seemingly 45 degree hills back up to Potrero Hill.

3. Duboce Triangle into Golden Gate Park Return 10.5km

From Duboce Triangle you can easily connect on Sanchez St. with "The Wiggle", a handy route marked on the road for cyclists that avoids hills and takes you to The Panhandle.  From there you're into Golden Gate Park and surrounded by nature and tons of options to explore the park.  I only went about a third of the way into the park but you could easily extend the run all the way to Ocean Beach.

Artists vs Spotify

For a while now I’ve been trying to reconcile why some of my favourite musicians and my favourite music streaming service don’t see eye to eye.  So when Taylor Swift pulled her catalogue from Spotify recently, the subsequent debate stirred up some unresolved thoughts and feelings that I’d suppressed since Thom Yorke broke up with Spotify last year.  

It's prompted me to dig a little deeper and make a few observations:

Everyone agrees that music has value and artists should be compensated for what they contribute to the world  

Swift says in her WSJ op ed pieceMusic is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for. It's my opinion that music should not be free.”  And in the opening line of Spotify's response Daniel Ek agrees.  Their model is the best option out there to reward musicians for their art.  Artists will never again receive the kinds of revenues they were accustomed to in the 90’s from selling recordings in a world where piracy and other free options are so readily available.  Unfortunately the majority of listeners out there aren’t willing to pay for music if they don’t have to.  So if a company can find a way to build a sustainable business through offering a brilliant service for music lovers, and monetise in a way that allows them to give back to artists every time a fan listens to their work, they should be embraced.

There are conflicting numbers out there that makes it difficult to judge if artists payouts are in fact fair

Aloe Blacc calculated for 168 million streams of his song Wake Me Up! he received a woeful $4K, but Moke Hill by their numbers estimated that many plays would have paid out over $1.5M, a huge difference.  David Byrne who has also been critical of artist compensation from streaming says here that a band of four people receiving a 15 percent royalty from Spotify streams would need 236,549,020 streams to secure an annual minimum wage of $15,080.  

This news report compares the 1.3 million copies sold of Swift’s latest album, worth $10M earned if purchased through iTunes, to $175K “streamed”.  But is that calculation assuming the album is streamed only once through by 1.3 million users?  If fans love the album they’ll stream it tons of times during their entire lifetime.   If I’ve understood the math correctly, they would need to each play it 57 times to equate to the same amount.  That seems conceivable.  God knows how many hundreds of times i’ve listened to some of my favourite albums.  


Artists will have to adjust to long-term distributed income

Right now artists probably aren’t feeling very well compensated, but over time revenue will accrue and change their perspectives.  It seems like their income model has gone from a lump-sum up-front payment to a much more dispersed pay-per-play situation.  I can understand that it would feel a lot less satisfying to get paid in dribs and drabs over decades as people actually listen to your music, rather than receiving a fat wad of cash mostly around the release date of an album.  

Artists should already expect to receive less income overall from recordings 

I tend to agree with the view that the changing music industry is simply the market correcting itself after a period of inefficiency.   This post describes the recorded music industry as a brief anomaly in the long history of music.  David Byrne recounts this tale more comprehensively in his book How Music Works.

Artists need to consider the usability impact of their decisions on fans

I also agree that it is a “dick move” to fans for artists to pull their music from Spotify.  I’ll explain.

I admire and respect Thom Yorke as one of the great musicians of my lifetime, but I found it frustrating that I had to dust off iTunes and go through a comparatively clunky bit torrent download process to buy and listen to his latest album.  Worse still, because I habitually consume music now through Spotify I keep forgetting to listen to it.  Same goes for other bands.  I miss Tool for example because they're not on Spotify.

It is naive to expect fans to put up with a less convenient user experience to consume music in an increasingly time-poor and mobile world.  On the point of the superior accessibility to music on Spotify Byrne says "...there are other paths to discovery like the artists website, Bandcamp and even previews on Amazon."  Really?  Going to multiple sources to find and sample music pales in comparison to just searching spotify and listening.  Like water flowing downhill, consumers will find the path of least resistance to get what they want. The process of buying or burning CDs was horribly inefficient.  Especially when you consider the process of finding and sampling music before purchase to avoid buyers' remorse.  Then came iTunes, a huge step forward, but whether you acquired music legally or illegally it was still a pain to sample music before purchase, download, import and sync music between all your devices.  Spotify was the first service actually easier to use and better than the free (illegal) option.  Suddenly a fan could access (almost) anything he/she wanted to hear in one place, anytime, anywhere and without the barrier of buy buttons, upload and sync.

The sanctity of "The Album" should be preserved but Spotify isn't the enemy of that

Many artists claim that albums should be enjoyed in their entirety, appreciated as a whole journey and not broken into pieces for background music.  I agree, that’s why I collect vinyl.  Records are the ultimate nostalgic tribute to the concept of the album.  But that’s also why I pay for Spotify Premium so I can listen to full albums end to end.  

I don't claim to have gotten to the bottom of this issue, but as a passionate "lean-forward" music listener I think that artists that don't make their music available on Spotify are undervaluing what it offers them and their fans.  My hope is that artists and Spotify will work together so that fans can stay close to their favourite artists AND get the best listening experience possible.

Update: Shortly after writing this I read this other illuminating article from The New Yorker.  It covers a lot of what I was trying to say.  The most interesting insight for me in terms of Artists vs Spotify is this excerpt:                                                  "AM/FM radio pays the writer of the song on a per-play basis, but gives the performer and the owner of the recording of the song—generally, the record label—nothing. On digital streaming services like Spotify, the situation is nearly reversed: the owners of the recording get most of the performance royalty money, while the songwriters get only a fraction of it."             My outtake being that by getting into bed with the record labels to make streaming viable (legal) Spotify have given them too much of the pie and left "creators" hungry.  That might indicate a future opening for another wave of disruption (Soundcloud?) or that, just as Moke Hill did, songwriters will find ways to more commonly own the recordings and keep more of the pie. 

Album of the Month April 2014

Salad Days by Mac DeMarco

The super-mellow, lackadaisical, humble and self-deprecating character that is Mac DeMarco, seems so far to the antithesis, or perhaps antidote of rock star it must be an act right?  A facade of seemingly naive sounding jingle-jangle rock calculated to disarm the listener into underestimating what turns out to be astoundingly well crafted and subtly sophisticated song writing behind a surface of jingle jangle rock?  Or maybe that's really just him and he's been able to shake off the trappings of fame?  Who knows and who cares because this is endearing stuff that demands many listens.  

How Pandora earned a share of my music streaming hours

Turns out there is room in my life for more than one music streaming service.  Here's how this came to pass.

I recently learned about how Pandora differentiates itself in the marketplace from the increasing range of options for music streaming.  As Jane Huxley, Managing Director of Pandora Australia & New Zealand put it at a recent Vivid Ideas talk for Product people, Pandora focusses solely on giving a great experience to the "passive" listener, the listening mode where you can't be bothered figuring out what you want to listen to, but you have an approximation in mind enough for Pandora to do the rest.  This made perfect sense to me based on what I knew about Pandora from when I used it a few years back around the time of the Music Genome Project.  Ms. Huxley went on to explain that this caters to the 80%, the mass-market, popular music audience, with only an infrequent injection of "discovery" required to ease safe music fans towards new things.  In the active listening market, "Spotify, Rdio, Deezer and all the rest can duke it out" for  the sit-forward crowd, the music nerds (like myself) dabbling in the long-tail of music genres and artists and don't mind putting a bit of thought into it before we listen.

Something about this dichotomy of "passive" and "active" didn't sit right with me for 2 reasons. Firstly Spotify (my service of choice) has a pretty decent "radio" service, so is Pandora's whole model covered off as a mere feature in Spotify .  Secondly, why does passive listening need to be only popular music?  Can't Pandora's passive listening mode work for the 20% of us who are discerning "active" listeners too?

So I spent some time experimenting to see if Pandora's focus on passive listening has converted to a superior user experience, and further, if that experience works for someone like me with more diverse and alternative tastes.  

After early analysis the results seem to be to the affirmative on both counts.

Pandora has now earned itself a place on my iPhone home screen (page 2 Spotify still gets a page 1 guernsey).  It is now my go-to app when I want no-brainer background music.  I've found it's served me best for the following need-states:

  • Running and workout tunes when you don't want to touch the iPhone with sweaty hands
  • Late night chillout music and dinnertime background tunes for those romantic moments when you don't want the distraction of flipping records every 15 minutes 
  • Just simply when you've run out of inspiration to be an active listener and want a low-risk automated playlist

There were two direct comparisons where Pandora trumped Spotify:

  • Radio based on Underworld artist - electronic music greats who I listen to whilst working out for their steady beats.  Pandora seemed to play a more predictable and satisfying stream of tracks, mostly by Underworld themselves.  Spotify on the other hand branched out too far toward more chilled beats, such as Groove Armada.
  • Radio based on LTJ Bukem artist - legendary innovator of the rolling jazz-ambient drum and bass style, great to run to for his hypnotic rhythms.  In this instance, Spotify seems to only play the more slow paced instrumental Bukem tracks, and there is a gaping abyss for half of his best work where his partner in crime MC Conrad is vocalising over the top, including the Progression Session live recordings.  Pandora however doesn't have this problem and picked out some of my favourite tracks from their back catalogue better serving the purpose of firing me up during my runs
  • And one where it was a draw:
    • Radio based on Tosca artist - wonderful chill out grooves.  Both apps served up the appropriate range of artists, including Kruder & Dorfmeister and Thievery Corporation
 Tosca artist radio - Pandora

Tosca artist radio - Pandora

 Tosca artist radio - Spotify

Tosca artist radio - Spotify

My loyalty to Spotify hasn't wavered yet, they provide terrific flexibility and features for someone that's always hungry to discover new music.  But now that Pandora has snuck in there for a certain portion of my weekly listening hours, I'll continue to experiment and see if Spotify can close the gap.  If not, that's ok, turns out there's room for two.




Album of the Month March 2014

Ini Kamoze by Ini Kamoze

Until recently I only had one point of reference for Ini Kamoze - his 1994 hit 'Here Comes the Hotstepper.'  But thanks to Melbourne record store Northside Records I found his self-titled debut album from 1984.  Drum and base fans will recognise a killer line heavily sampled from the track World A Music - "out in the street they call it mur-der, when riddims spacing out your head". This album hooks you in quickly and before you know it, its up there in your all time reggae/dub favourites.  

First dive with a GoPro

Scuba diving with a GoPro comes with a whole new set of challenges.   I recently took it down to about 20 metres near South West Rocks at a dive site called Fish Rock, an incredible dive that includes navigating a cave by torchlight, a moderate current and tons of marine life so there are times when the GoPro is just one too many things to keep track of.

Key lessons:

  • Keeping a camera steady and panning smoothly whilst diving takes great concentration.  A lot of my footage was unwatchably shaky and overly frenetic.  
  • It is really blue down there!  At any depth you lose a lot of colour.  I didn't have one for the video below but apparently red filters do the trick.  I'm told that SRP and Backscatter are popular.
  • Finding an attachment that ensures you always have the GoPro strapped to you, but also allows you to move it around freely and point it at stuff is tricky.  I used a pole with velcro wrist strap accessory, which was great for holding out to capture the action and then let hang loose when you don't need it.  It does dangle around a bit when you're not holding it thought, which you have to be conscious of when close to the reef or in tight spaces like a cave.

First impressions with a GoPro

A recent trip to New Zealand's North Island served as a wonderful test-bed for my first attempts with a GoPro.  There is definitely a liberating feeling being able to take a camera with you just about anywhere.  And whilst its super easy to get up and running, I can see how its gonna take a bit of practise to learn what and how to shoot to have a well rounded video at the end of the editing process.  It is annoying at first not being able to playback everything immediately (as trained by your smartphone) unless you wanna spend another $120 for the LCD Touch BacPac accessory but it's kinda nice to just keep shooting in the moment rather than checking everything looks ok.

Speaking of editing video, another smooth sailing first for me was using iMovie.  Within a couple of hours I managed to piece together a few key moments from the trip, figure out how to add different transitions, slow down/speed up footage, play with audio, add music.  I only had to consult The Google once to figure out how to fade sound in and out.  A final lesson is beware when adding music to your video as Facebook won't let you add anything where the music infringes copyright and it takes forever to get to a disappointing result.  YouTube seem a little more flexible.

Album of the Month January 2014

Ellington at Newport (1956) by Duke Ellington

I recently stumbled onto the brilliant song Jeep's Blues from that scene in American Hustle where Christian Bale and Amy Adam’s characters are bonding over Duke Ellington.  The track is from an album called Ellington at Newport, a live performance from 1956 that showcases the effortless class and agility of The Duke and his band and makes you melt with nostalgia.  Fun fact, ‘Jeep’ was the nickname of sax player Johnny Hodges.

Ocean Swimming - Quintessential Sydney

Last summer I set myself the challenge of tackling the two most well known ocean swims in Sydney, the Bondi to Bronte and the Cole Classic in Manly.  These are not the longest events by any stretch, however for a first timer, 2.4km and 2km respectively out in the open ocean seemed daunting enough to be a substantial goal. 

Thankfully any apprehension was unwarranted and on both occasions the whole experience proved to be hugely enjoyable and rewarding.  I can’t wait to repeat these swims and improve my times.  For anyone visiting or living in Sydney, I’d recommend adding at least one of these swims to their list of Sydney 'must-dos'.  If you can, doing the Sun Run ( the day before the Cole Classic makes for a truly memorable weekend of getting physical.

A few notes and tips:

The training leading up to it is all part of the experience!  To prepare, I started training in the pool about 3 months out, swimming about 30-40 laps at least twice a week.  If you can swim 40 laps non-stop in the pool you can complete these ocean swims no problems.  The main difference physically is that in the ocean you have to lift your head up frequently to check you’re on target for the next marker, so you’ll probably feel some unusual neck and back soreness afterwards. 

To get used to ocean water temperature and salinity, you can up the ante and train in one of Sydney’s many sea-side pools.  Icebergs in Bondi is one of the most iconic  Just avoid high tide unless you want to simulate swimming in a washing machine.

There are ocean swim events every weekend throughout the summer in and around Sydney which can be found here