Category Archives: Advice

The Mighty Power of Google

Sunday, August 21, 2016
Posted in Advice by Joel Gross

I have worked “optimizing” search engines for my entire post college career. “Optimizing” is in quotes because I work to help companies that pay me show up higher in Google’s search rankings, perhaps occasionally against what Google would want ranking. I am probably more familiar with search algorithms used by Google than anyone outside of Google itself. I have discovered many little methods, as well as a few bigger secrets, of how to do my job of search engine optimization better than anyone else. Because I am successful at “optimizing” Google, I have built a company with sixty full time employees who also do what I do. I have many clients that receive far more leads and revenue than they otherwise would without my help.

I thought I was powerful and influential for awhile.

Then I realized that I am really just a barnacle on the surface of a worldwide leviathan. Google has tens of thousands times higher revenue than I do. I would not exist without Google, I am a small part of it’s ecosystem.

Everyone uses Google. Google controls the information we see on a day to day basis. Billions of searches and Google controls what gets clicked on and what doesn’t. Google controls which companies succeed, and which don’t. Each time I help a client reach higher rankings in Google’s search results, that client might see their overall revenues double or triple.

Google is a company with $75 billion in annual revenue for itself. But far more importantly, it controls many trillions of dollars of commerce going to other businesses. Google controls what information you see when you search for political questions. Google controls what answers come up when you look for the best programming language, best dating site, religious questions, and on and on.

Every day Google weaves itself tighter and tighter into our lives. As I drive to work each morning, every other driver is staring intently at their phones… mostly Android powered phones. Android controls 65% of the US market, 82% of the German market, 76% of the French market, 88% of the Spanish market.

Google is becoming harder and harder to influence. When I first started in search engine optimization, anyone who had read a few blog posts could figure out how to get their website to the top of Google. Now I see thousands of flailing worthless SEO firms not getting any real changes made for their clients. The old tricks mostly don’t work anymore. My team and I have had some success, but it takes far more work than it used to. And we are the #1 ranked “los angeles seo” services company… Most companies can’t move the needle at all.

I believe that Google is now more powerful than most governments worldwide. Google controls what information you receive, and because of that, in many ways how you think.

For me, I feel like I’ve become a cyborg. Much of what I think and remember is online. 90% of my communications happen through gmail. I can’t remember what I told I a client 6 months ago, but I can find that email in seconds. Much of what used to be stored in my brain is now stored online. Photos, emails, events, research, planning, and much else only resides online now. Google has literally become a part of my personality and who I am.





Hanlon’s Razor – Fundamental Attribution Error

Monday, July 18, 2016
Posted in Advice by Joel Gross

Hanlon’s Razor states that you should never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by carelessness.

Many times I have made this mistake and thought that someone in my life who had mistreated me had cunningly planned a way to hurt my interests. In reality, I think that most of the time those people had no ill will… they just didn’t care and therefore allowed something bad to happen.

Gamifying Workouts & Pokemon Go

Sunday, July 17, 2016
Posted in Advice by Joel Gross

I would really love if someone made a game where you could play an MMORPG while walking slowly on a treadmill. If you had combat against another character though, you would have to run on the treadmill and that would affect the damage you could do – whoever ran fastest would do the most damage. If you had a higher level character, you would do a higher level of damage as well. This way say a Level 10 character who could run 6 miles per hour would be equal to a Level 6 character who could run 9 miles per hour.

Pokemon Go is sort of like this -you wander around in the real world to collect Pokemon and level them up. It is highly addicting – Laurel and I played it for an hour or two last night walking around in the real world.  Augmented reality is pretty incredible stuff!

Doctors Should Be Paid On Outcomes, Not Procedures

Thursday, July 14, 2016
Posted in Advice by Joel Gross

I was just in the gym of the hotel we are staying at on Kauai for our honeymoon and overheard a couple of doctors talking. The entire conversation was about how they generate revenue and how to get more. Neither of them mentioned quality of care or patient outcomes once.

Our healthcare system incentivizes doctors to perform as many procedures as possible at a high of cost as possible without regard to patient outcomes.

The more MRIs and chemotherapy sessions and other treatments each doctor does, the more money they make. One of the doctors said his practice makes $110 million a year from all the services he charges for.

I think our whole medical system is backwards – doctors should be paid for achieving certain patient outcomes.

Imagine if you could go to a doctor and you knew he was paid based on getting you to the best possible outcome – wouldn’t you feel a lot better if he recommended a dangerous procedure? Right now when you are recommended a dangerous procedure you have to worry about whether the doctor just wants to make his next boat payment or pay for his vacation to Kauai.

Research shows that there is a massive amount of unnecessary treatments and procedures done in America each year. As a matter of fact, the 3rd leading cause of death in our country is medical error! Let’s stop paying trillions of dollars for treatments that don’t work and push through reforms for how healthcare is provided and how doctors are motivated.

Wouldn’t you rather overhear doctors conversing about the latest in medical science and how to get the best patient outcomes rather than how they are generating more revenue with a new machine?


Benjamin Graham’s “The Intelligent Investor”

Friday, July 1, 2016
Posted in Advice by Joel Gross

Warren Buffet’s most highly recommended investment book is “The Intelligent Investor” by Benjamin Graham. Warren Buffet’s essays and philosophy on investing sound like the best way to invest to me, so I use his value based approach. Warren Buffet advocates that you keep in mind that underlying each stock is an actual business with a true actual valuation. However, the stock market gyrates wildly in reaction to if people are fearful or greedy and a good investor can take advantage of t his to buy low and sell high. I hope to learn more about how to do this from Mr. Graham’s book!


Friday, June 24, 2016
Posted in Advice by Joel Gross

Populist anger is rising worldwide in response to frequent terrorist attacks. People see bombings and shootings by Muslim immigrants and are starting to vote for policies that will shut out migrants.

The rise of Trump and his popularity is driven by populist anger at the perceived problems caused by immigration and free trade.

Britain voted today to exit the European Union.  The British have had a variety of terrorist attacks and have seen partner countries suffer their own attacks. Their anger has grown enough that they are taking the drastic step of leaving the EU even though it will clearly severely damage their economy.

Today, the British Pound is trading at a massive loss other currencies. Many British firms will be exiting the country so they can stay in the EU trade zone. Their economy will enter a recession. The British Central Bank will need to raise interest rates, deepening the coming recession to possibly a depression. Stocks globally are down 2-3%.

We are entering dangerous territory in global politics as populist anger is now dictating policy in the biggest countries… this anger doesn’t listen to logic. Pretty much every economist in the world counseled Britain not to exit the EU as it would cause a market crash.

During the 1930′s Germany and other countries also had a massive wave of populist anger that pushed extremists such as Hitler into power. We are seeing the first signs of a very dangerous wave similar to that one rising in global politics.

Cost Per Unit of Productivity

Tuesday, June 21, 2016
Posted in Advice by Joel Gross

When I worked as an employee at Visible Technologies, I thought to myself that if I ever owned a company that I would like to pay people based on actual work output rather than just for having their butt in a chair.

Now that I do run my own company, I have found this to be nearly impossible to do. Even my salespeople have a base salary. Everyone who works here is paid for the time they have their butt in a chair.

I would still like to change butt in chair time to paying for people’s actual productivity, but this is much harder than it initially looks.

Most employees themselves want the security of a regular fixed paycheck; I have found that any money paid that is not fixed each period is discounted significantly in people’s minds.  We do a generous monthly profit share, but people don’t factor this into their compensation when they think about it since it is variable.

From the perspective of the company itself, actually measuring true productivity that helps the bottom line is very difficult. Even our salespeople, who theoretically could just be paid on what they sell,  quite often do work outside of just closing deals that helps the company (occasionally managing a client, or helping improve our systems and processes). For people like our accountant it can be very hard to assess how they impact the bottom line.

After much thought, I have found a system I call Cost Per Unit of Productivity or CPUPs to be reasonably effective. It’s not perfect since it requires subjective judgments of managers, but it formalizes that process a little bit.

How does Cost Per Unit of Productivity measurement work?

  1. List all employees and their accompanying rates of pay
  2. Find the most productive employee you have and rate them as a 100 so you have a benchmark to use.
  3. Talk to managers, other employees, and review any objective measures available and arrive at a comparison to the most productive person. If the most productive person is 10 times as productive as the least productive person, rate the least productive person a 10. Establish ratings for each person in your spreadsheet so that now you have 3 columns. Name, Pay, Productivity.
  4. Create a fourth column called CPUPs. Divide Productivity by Pay. This will result in a number that gives you how much you pay for each unit of productivity.
  5. Create a fifth column called special skills / circumstances and if a person has a unique skill that cannot be found elsewhere or if there is some special circumstance make note of it here.
  6. Sort the columns by CPUPs. Those with the lowest cost per productivity are those most deserving of raises. Look at them closely for increases. Those with the highest cost per unit of productivity should be considered for termination unless they have special skills – they are likely the worst employees you have.
  7. Talk to the leaders in your company before taking any action on the information you found above and consider it for at least a few days then make your moves.

I have used this informally through the last few years of running my company, and formally once about a year ago. When I used it formally, I was a bit surprised by the results, but I talked with my advisers and managers and they recommended to move forward with the raises for the people at the lowest cost per unit of productivity and terminations for the highest cost per unit of productivity and I did so. The result was that the next six months were the most profitable and successful months the company has ever had.

I have been mostly focused on growth and improving our systems over the last few months and not on cost per unit of productivity. As a result, our profit margins have narrowed. I am about to use this methodology again to make adjustments to our team, so we will see if the methodology continues to work as well as it did the first time around.

Every Day Exercise

Wednesday, June 1, 2016
Posted in Advice by Joel Gross

Exercising every day is a big challenge for most people. What I have done to motivate myself to exercise every day is to track it in my personal goals spreadsheet that I update each day.  You can see the types of exercise I have done each day below for the last two weeks:

6 mi run, 9:40 pace
4 mi run
Rock climbing
6 mi run
Rock climbing
Light lifting
Rock climbing
Fitstar watch
6 mi run
Rock climbing
Bball 2 games
Rock climbing
Bball 5 games
Rock climbing
6 mi run

Only 2 days off! Although my rock climbing or lifts are sometimes weak sauce if I’m tired. I think just trying to do something is half the battle, just show up!

Happy life

Wednesday, May 25, 2016
Posted in Advice by Joel Gross
My advice for a happy life based on what works for me / research in general:
  1. Eat healthy every day
  2. Exercise every day
  3. Find a live in significant other
  4. Talk to a friend or family member daily
  5. Caffeine and alcohol are high interest short term loans, generally better to avoid
  6. Move on
  7. Build things you are passionate about
  8. Listen to other people
  9. Read good books

SyntaxNet is Approaching Human Levels

Monday, May 16, 2016
Posted in Advice by Joel Gross

Google’s new open source language parser, SyntaxNet, seems to be nearing human levels of sentence parsing.  Trained human linguists can parse sentences with 97% accuracy, SyntaxNet can parse them with 94% accuracy… basically SyntaxNet is halfway there. If it doubles in efficiency twice, it will surpass humans.

When it surpasses humans, how far will we be from general strong artificial intelligence? That’s hard to say… but if you combined the work being done on Go, language parsing, robotic movement in real space, and other areas it seems like we are very, very close. Possibly less than five years….

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