via CNN Good stuff newsletter

Bottled treasure
Boat captain Jennifer Dowker was cleaning the bottom of her glass-bottomed boat on the Cheboygan River in Michigan when an old-fashioned green bottle caught her eye. She thought it would just be a cool find, until she saw a piece of paper carefully rolled up inside. Sure enough, it was a note, written all the way back in November of 1926“Will the person who finds this bottle return this paper to George Morrow Cheboygan, Michigan and tell where it was found?” Dowker’s first mate put the message on Facebook. Amazingly, a woman named Michele Primeau, who doesn’t even use Facebook, was alerted to the post. She recognized the handwriting as her father’s. Morrow passed away in 1995, but Primeau says the bottle brought back a lot of good memories — especially since it all happened on Father’s Day weekend.

Our favorites this week

IntelliFusion Newsletter I like.

Here’s your weekly rundown of the global security landscape, highlighting key incidents that have taken place from each region in the last seven days;


Bangkok, Thailand

Pro-democracy protesters held a large demonstration in Bangkok to mark the 89th anniversary of the end of absolute monarchy in Thailand. The protesters first gathered at the Democracy Monument and marched towards the Prime Minister’s office, where protesters called for the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.

Thai police have warned against attending protests due to COVID-19 restrictions but allowed the demonstration to take place along a closely guarded route. Additional protests have been planned in Chiang Mai and in Nakhon Si Thammarat.


The Black Sea

Reporting over the last seven days has seen Russian naval and air assets operating in the Black Sea in the lead up to Exercise Sea Breeze 2021; a 32 nation exercise involving Ukraine, the USA and the UK among numerous others which will occur largely in the Black Sea. Open source reporting has been heavily focussed on an incident where Russia claimed to have fired warning shots with naval and air assets towards the Royal Navy’s HMS Defender due to the vessel sailing in what Russia claims to be Russian waters off the coast of the Crimea Peninsula.

Further reports on the incident led to a great deal of confusion as to what happened. However, reporting from a BBC journalist embedded with the crew of HMS Defender indicates that Russian aircraft were flying near the destroyer, but reports of warning shots were live fire drills being conducted far away from the vessel.

With the Black Sea being very close to Russian territory and Ukraine’s Donbass region, the presence of numerous militaries in the Black Sea will be a major concern to Russian forces and Russian paramilitaries in the Donbass region (their activities in the Donbass region have become harder to track in recent months). For the duration of Exercise Sea Breeze 2021 (28th June – 10th July 2021) it is possible that Russian activity in the Black Sea will increase and with it, an increase in reports from Russia claiming that foreign navies have entered waters Russia claims are its own.


Tigray Region, Ethiopia

An Ethiopian Air Force airstrike on a market in Togoga, northwest of Mekelle, capital of Tigray Region has left at least 64 dead and 180 injured, according to local officials, residents, and healthcare workers. However, the Ethiopian army spokesperson claimed that the airstrike targeted rebel fighters dressed in civilian clothing.

There have been increased reports of heavy fighting between the Tigray Defence Forces (TDF), the Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF), and Eritrean Defence Forces (ErDF) since at least 18th June after the TDF launched an offensive named Operation Alula AbaNega. The TDF claim to have made gains on three fronts around Mekelle and briefly entered Adigrat as well as capturing over 1000 ENDF soldiers and large amounts of heavy weapons and ammunition.

In early June, there were also reports that the ENDF and its allies were preparing a ‘final’ offensive with reports of white phosphorous and heavy artillery transported into Mekelle on Ethiopian Airlines aircraft. Videos circulating on social media seemingly confirm the use of Ethiopian Airlines aircraft to transport Ethiopian soldiers into Tigray Region. The latest reports of civilian casualties add to mounting pressure on PM Abiy Ahmed over the conflict in the Tigray Region, where a humanitarian crisis and widespread reports of sexual violence, ethnic cleansing and war crimes have forced the U.S. to impose sanctions on Ethiopia.


Reynosa, Mexico

Last weekend, 230 murders were reported across Mexico. The most significant incident took place in Reynosa, where 14 civilians were shot dead in broad daylight on Saturday.

A convoy of two allied factions of the Gulf Cartel, the Scorpions and the Cyclones, arrived from the nearby city of Rio Bravo and fired indiscriminately at civilians on the streets of eastern Reynosa. Amongst the 14 victims were taxi drivers, construction workers, and a student. Four of the attackers were killed after their convoy was finally confronted by state police near the Pharr International Bridge. The only suspect who was captured alive has since shed more light on the attack. He claims he received orders to “heat up the place” and seize territory from Los Metros, a rival faction within the Gulf Cartel. Mexican authorities call the attack an attempt to generate “social destabilisation”.

This upcoming Saturday, 26th June, protest marches will be organised in both Reynosa and Rio Bravo to commemorate the victims of the attack. Relatives of the victims have urged participants to keep the marches peaceful.


Brasilia, Brazil

Indigenous protesters from across Brazil returned to the streets of Brasilia on Tuesday, 22nd June, to protest against a bill backed by the country’s agriculture sector, which could undermine legal protections for indigenous territories and open them up to mining, commercial farming, and infrastructure projects.

The protesters planned to march to Brazil’s congress but were halted by riot police near Itamaraty Palace, where tear gas and rubber bullets faced off against bows and arrows. At least five people were injured, including two police officers who were shot with arrows. The violence caused legislative proceedings regarding the controversial bill to be suspended.

Approximately 850 indigenous protesters remain at their encampment in Brasilia, with more tribes still on their way. Similar protests have been reported in the states of Alagoas, Roraima, Bahia and São Paulo.


THE INSIGHT: An Intelligence Fusion Video Series

A video series that takes a closer look at key incidents and events, providing you with wider analysis on security trends, evolving patterns and unexplored geopolitical themes from every corner of the globe.


War in Afghanistan: What does it mean for the future of the TAPI Gas Pipeline?

In the latest episode of The Insight video series, Max Taylor, Senior Regional Analyst for Asia and the Middle East at Intelligence Fusion, takes a look at the future of the TAPI Pipeline project in light of the ongoing insecurity in Afghanistan.


Carl Sagan

American astronomer Carl Sagan was known and much beloved for his research on extraterrestrial life and the cosmos, which he shared with the public in his earnest, enthusiastic manner on his 1980 TV show “Cosmos,” the most widely watched series in the history of American public television. In his book “The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark,” Sagan noted that even the simplest scientific concept, fully grasped, can elicit a spiritual experience. “The very act of understanding is a celebration of joining, merging, even if on a modest scale, with the magnificence of the cosmos,” he wrote. “When we recognize our place in an immensity of light-years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty, and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual.”

Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.Mark Twain – 1835-1910 – Journalist-Lecturer-Novelist-Humorist
Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.Mark Twain – 1835-1910 – Journalist-Lecturer-Novelist-Humorist

Five Useful Phrases

  1. My Cup of Tea Meaning: Someone or something that one finds to be agreeable or delightful.
  2. A Piece of Cake Meaning: A task that is simple to accomplish.
  3. In the Red Meaning: Losing money. Being in debt.
  4. A Lemon Meaning: Usually a vehicle (but any device) that you buy that’s defective.
  5. Playing Possum Meaning: Pretending to be dead, or to be deceitful about something.


It’s more dangerous to have education and lack common sense than it is to have common sense and lack education.
It is a thousand times better to have common sense without education than to have education without common sense. (Robert Green Ingersoll)
Courage is to be terrified, but remain unaffected in your actions.
Courage is never to let your actions be influenced by your fears. (Arthur Koestler)

Things Ernest Hemingway Never Said

For sale, baby shoes, never worn.

There is no evidence Hemingway actually wrote this quote, but experts also can’t pinpoint its origin. The likeliest explanation is early-1900s newspaper advertisements, where phrases such as “for sale, baby carriage; never been used” were printed regularly.

It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.

This simple but relevant quote reads like a Hemingway musing, but he didn’t write this phrase, either. Renowned fantasy and science-fiction author Ursula K. Le Guin penned this popular phrase in her 1969 novel The Left Hand of Darkness.

We are all broken — that’s how the light gets in.

Hemingway did write about how to be strong during broken phases (“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places”), but he’s not the author of this particular quote. It’s likely a merging of Hemingway’s words and singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen’s song “Anthem,” which features the lyrics: “There is a crack, a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

The most painful thing is losing yourself in the process of loving someone too much, and forgetting that you are special too.

Some say this one came from Hemingway’s short-story collection Men Without Women, but that’s another false quote to the author’s name. It’s believed to have originated from writer Marc Chernoff’s 2011 blog post, “30 things to stop doing to yourself.”

There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.

This quote actually surfaced two years before Hemingway’s 1899 birth, which means there’s no way the author could have popularized this phrase. Lecturer W.L. Sheldon penned this one in his collection of Ethical Addresses in 1897.

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

Like most writers, Hemingway enjoyed the final product much more than the writing process, but he’s not the true author of this relatable quote. It’s believed to be an adaptation of sportswriter Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith’s 1949 quote, “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.” Writer Paul Gallico uttered a similar sentiment with this metaphor in 1946: “It is only when you open your veins and bleed onto the page a little that you establish contact with your reader.”

Before you act, listen.

This simple but striking quote has all the makings of a Hemingway maxim, but yet again, the words aren’t his. Experts believe the quote originated from motivational writer William Arthur Ward’s poem, which reads: “Before you speak, listen. Before you write, think. Before you spend, earn. Before you invest, investigate. Before you criticize, wait. Before you pray, forgive. Before you quit, try. Before you retire, save. Before you die, give.”

I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know?

The self-deprecating realness in this quote definitely sounds right up Hemingway’s alley, but this one is also misattributed. The true source has yet to be confirmed.

Humans need two years to learn to speak and sixty years to learn to shut up.

This Hemingway misquote originated in the early 1900s. A 1909 editorial in the Wenatchee, Washington, local newspaper included a similar phrase: “It takes a person two years to learn how to talk and all the rest of his life to learn to keep from talking too much.” Newspapers republished variations of this phrase for years after.

People are dying that have never died before.

While Hemingway did write this phrase in the mid-1900s, it’s not his original work — and he didn’t try to mask that fact. Hemingway attributed this phrase to his friend and boat captain Edward “Bra” Saunders, the phrase’s originator. Almost 100 years later, a viral meme also incorrectly attributed the quote to U.S. President Joe Biden.

“Let them Eat Cake” The famous misquote

Marie Antoinette, France’s ill-fated last queen before the French Revolution, is remembered for her extravagant royal lifestyle that stood in stark contrast to the lives of her subjects, who suffered from an economic depression during her 18th-century reign. It’s a reputation that has only been reinforced by modern retellings of her life — director Sofia Coppola’s 2006 cult film Marie Antoinette, for example, depicts the young queen in pastel frills, surrounded by pastries and rococo luxury.

It would make sense, then, that the lavish monarch’s most famously quoted words would concern a fine dessert: Allegedly, when told that her subjects were starving from bread shortages, Marie Antoinette replied, “Then let them eat cake.”

The callous quip has become almost synonymous with Marie Antoinette’s name. But did the exchange actually take place? The truth is, there are no direct sources that can tie the line to the queen. Instead, it’s likely that a historical game of telephone, with some politics mixed in, has resulted in one of the most famous misquotes of all time.

Our most solid clue to the origin of the quote lies in the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a philosopher who was instrumental to French revolutionary politics. In Rousseau’s autobiographical book Confessions, he recalls a “great princess who, when told that the peasants had no bread, replied: ‘Then let them eat brioche.’” (While the translation is different, the sentiment remains, brioche being more luxurious than regular bread.)

However, at the time of Rousseau’s writing (around 1765), Marie Antoinette was only 10 years old and wasn’t yet the queen of France. Some biographers alternatively attribute the quote to Queen Maria Teresa, the wife of the French “Sun King” Louis XIV, a century earlier — but there’s little evidence to support that claim, either.

Another theory is that the misattributed quote was born out of political convenience. Since many revolutionaries wanted to abolish the monarchy, it would suit their needs to paint the queen as ignorant or coldhearted. For years before the revolution, the French press accused her of adultery, ruining the country’s finances, and callousness toward her subjects. Many saw her as too young to be on the throne, a naive hedonist who spent her subjects’ tax money on frivolities while they starved. The sentiment ultimately led to her execution by guillotine at age 37 in 1793, shortly after the execution of her husband, King Louis XVI.

There was some truth to these grievances: Marie Antoinette was only 14 years old when she married Louis-Auguste, and became queen of France just four years later at age 18. She was undoubtedly extravagant: She had her own chocolatier, an expensive signature perfume, and a private estate that cost a fortune. And yet, for her to cruelly declare her starving subjects should “eat cake” doesn’t quite fit with other aspects of her time at court.

Marie Antoinette’s life was not only pastries and parties. During her reign, she established a home for unwed mothers and patronized a charity for the elderly, the blind, and widows. She adopted numerous children, personally tended to injured peasants, and frequently visited families in need to hand out food and supplies. During France’s 1787 famine, she even sold the royal family’s flatware to buy grain for poorer families. She also became involved in French politics over the course of her reign, attending finance and war meetings and convincing the king to be inoculated against smallpox, which made the practice more accepted. None of this suggests a queen who was ignorant of her subjects’ troubles or would mock them for starving.

Whether or not Marie Antoinette actually did brush off the need for bread, it’s no wonder the French people would have been infuriated by such a remark. The average 18th-century worker spent half their wages on bread alone. And according to France’s “Observatoire du Pain” (Bread Observatory), bread remains a crucial staple of the French diet today. In fact, in large part due to the shortages that happened during Marie Antoinette’s reign, the cost of bread in France has been either fixed or heavily regulated for centuries.

History is a matter of perspective, so it’s easy for events and words to get distorted as years pass. We may never know who proclaimed “Let them eat cake,” or whether the phrase is just a myth. Still, the quote has endured for what it represents: It remains a symbol of how too much of a good thing can distance us from reality. And it encourages us, even now, to question the systems that create such deep inequalities in the first place.

Photo credit: Photo 12/ Contributor/ Getty Images

Most famous things Mark Twain never said.

A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.
– Written by satirist Jonathan Swift in 1710

Never let schooling interfere with your education.
 Coined by the novelist and essayist Grant Allen in 1894

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.
– Written in the 1990 book “P. S. I Love You” by H. Jackson Brown, Jr. and credited to his mother, Sarah Frances Brown

Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.
– Attributed to an anonymous government researcher in 1968

The secret of getting ahead is getting started.
– Origin unknown

The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.
– Anonymous

I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.
– Written by French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal in 1656

When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.
– Origin is unknown

The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.
– Said in some form by actor James Quin in the 1700s

Golf is a good walk spoiled.
– Likely originally said in some form by an unknown couple called “the Allens,” friends of author H. S. Scrivener, in a conversation about lawn tennis in 1903

Why not go out on a limb? That’s where the fruit is.
– Written by journalist Frank Scully in 1950

Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.
– A version was credited to Berlin doctor Markus Herz in 1912

Don’t believe the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.
– Attributed to humorist Robert J. Burdette in 1883

If you ever come across a Mark Twain quote that you suspect might not be accurate, look it up  on the website Twain Quotes. The database was compiled by Barbara Schmidt, a 2017 Mark Twain Journal Legacy Scholar and author at the Center for Mark Twain Studies. Because, as Mark Twain didn’t actually say (though the anonymous quote is often attributed to him), “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

Interesting newsletter: Below the fold

The world’s third largest diamond was unearthed in Botswana last week. The 1,098 carat diamond — yes one thousand — is the largest ever mined by Debswana Diamond Company and was presented to the country’s President. While nothing has been determined in regards to selling it, the discovery is a big win for Botswana as nearly 80% of Debswana’s income gets allocated to the government through taxes, royalties, and dividends.TECHNOLOGYGoogle’s Time Machine either provides comfort or creeps you out
Sat Jun 19

For years, viral tweets have spread about users finding images of their deceased loved ones on Google Maps Street View. Street View allows users to travel in time to images as old as 2007. Many have felt comfort after finding an image of their grandpa at his barn or grandmother lounging in her front yard. Others have been disturbed, such as one father who found an aerial image of his dead son’s body. While faces are blurred, there’s still the question of how such data involving the deceased should be handled. For the living, it varies between cases and jurisdictions.

Central to meeting minimum legality, though, is how the photos are obtained. For Street View:First, Google captures images (either through their own vehicles or contributors), taken from public spaces.Then they combine sensor data from the vehicle (like GPS, speed, and direction) to help reconstruct the car’s exact route.Adjacent cameras that took slightly overlapping photos are then stitched together to create the 360 Street View.Lasers on the car determine the distance between it and nearby buildings to build the best three dimensional view.Finally, the images are processed and filtered to weed out illegal content and auto-blur faces.Technically, taking photos from a street isn’t illegal — even when a person is present in the frame. In the U.S., each state has its own variations of when street photography becomes unethical or an invasion of privacy, such as a photo into someone’s apartment from the outside. But a photo of, for example, Times Square, could have dozens of faces but be completely legal. Google does, however, allow users to request the blurring of human bodies, cars, or even entire houses upon request. Some additional resources…→ Full coverage: Recode
→ Man who found image of son’s dead body: BuzzFeed
→ How Street View works: Google
→ Viral tweets of people spotting their deceased loved ones: CNN
→ Paper on legality around Google’s image database: Pittsburgh Law School
→ The Wikipedia of maps: Below the Fold
SPYINGSouth Korea’s digital sex crime epidemic
Thu Jun 17

Following the Korean War in the 1950s, South Korea became a leader in technological advances. While countries like Cuba still struggle to get online, South Korea has the world’s highest rate of adult smartphone ownership and world-class internet speeds with 99.5% of households connected to the internet. Now this technology is in wide use for digital sex crimes where women are being recorded without consent just about anywhere they go — including workplaces, public restrooms, and even their own homes.

A 2017 South Korean survey even showed that 80% of men surveyed admitted to violent acts against a partner, a sign of how such behavior has become almost common practice.Tiny cameras, or “spycams,” are being placed in toilets, changing rooms, hotels, coke cans, shampoo bottles, and more. One woman discovered her married male employer had been spying on her through a clock he gave her after she rejected his advances.The spycams secretly capture pictures and videos of women and girls, which are then sold or even freely distributed online — all without the victim’s knowledge let alone consent. These sex crimes have led to real world harassment as well as long-lasting anxiety and depression.And turning to law enforcement only worsens the trauma as they shift blame to the women or urge women to drop the case, even though illegal filming is 20% of all sex crime prosecutions (up from 4% in 2008). When prosecuted, men face lesser sentences or often walk free, but a woman in 2018 was jailed for posting a nude photo of a man online. The unequal treatment is unsurprising for a country ranked 102 out of 156 advanced countries for gender gaps in economic participation and opportunity.

While there is some legal reform following a slew of 2018 protests, many say progress will be difficult without women in government positions. The country’s current Sex Crimes Act — which makes digital sex crimes illegal — is subjective and incomplete (e.g. it omits audio recordings). Some additional resources… → Full coverage: Human Rights Watch
→ More on the Sex Crimes Act: The Register
→ 2018 protests: Human Rights Watch
→ Tips on detecting hidden cameras: ForbesCLASSIFIEDSTired of dogecoin and meme stocks? Give art a shot. Contemporary art prices have outperformed S&P 500 returns by 174% since ’95. That could be why 2/3rds of billionaires are allocating over 20% of their portfolios into art, and 86% of wealth advisors are recommending their clients follow suit.The only problem is, unless you have $50,000,000 to build your own collection of masterpieces, you’ve been locked out of this exclusive asset class. Until now.

Meet Masterworks, your golden ticket to the art market. Their platform lets you buy shares of great works from artists like KAWS, Basquiat, and more. The brainchild of serial tech entrepreneurs (who also happen to be top-100 art collectors), they make investing easier than getting upvotes on /r/wallstreetbets.

Run, don’t walk: Below the Fold readers can skip the 18,500 person waitlist here.*

*See disclaimer.>> Check out MasterworksASCII OF THE WEEK . ‘ , _______ _ .`_|___|_`. _ \ \ / / \ ‘ ‘ / \ ” / \./ V Profits from a 1,098 carat diamond has a nice ring to it…
Art Credit: Donovan Bake

Bootstrapped: the newsletter I like and subscribe.

Dear founder,


When founders do market research, they are well-advised to look for competition. But many entrepreneurs have a very limited understanding of what “competition” means and therefore overlook many interesting — and often critical — competitors in their chosen markets.

If you prefer listening over reading, you can listen to this episode of The Bootstrapped Founder on my podcast.

It usually goes like this: a founder spots a niche in the market they’re interested in. Then, they start looking into the viability of building a business. One of the first things they look for is competition, and to many founders, that means businesses just like the one they are planning to build. A founder of a Software as a Service business looks for other SaaS companies offering similar things. A writer looks for other books on the subject. They’re looking for the things they know, the solutions that come to mind most readily.

But that’s not enough.

I was introduced to the concept of “competitive alternatives” by reading April Dunford’s book, Obviously Awesome. In her book on positioning, she points out that not all competitors will look like you, and you should not be looking at similar solutions, but all the things that people use to solve the underlying problem.

Let’s say you’re building a SaaS for Online English teachers who need to write student feedback multiple times a day. You join their communities and learn that there are two existing competing SaaS products on the market, serving a couple of thousand teachers from two or three particular Online Schools.

Most founders stop here. They see the competition and decide what to build from looking at these two existing products.

Why am I talking about Online Teachers? It’s because we did this research before we built FeedbackPanda, an Online Teacher productivity SaaS that my partner Danielle and I bootstrapped to $55.000 Monthly recurring revenue before we sold the business back in 2019. We tried very hard to make sure to know all competitive alternatives in the market before we committed to building a business in it.

In terms of actual competitors, we saw a few comment bank products that had products that looked like they were from the ’90s. Anything would have been better than those. But leaving it at this would have been a fatal assumption.

Let’s examine the landscape of actual competitive alternatives in the online teaching space as our research allowed us to discover.

Here’s the most threatening competitor: spreadsheets. That’s right. Good old boring Excel and Google Sheets. Teachers created clunky but somewhat workable self-built solutions to be more efficient. After all, these tools — particularly the Google tools — are free. And the results of those custom solutions are a good enough improvement over the status quo for those teachers to have invested a lot of time into their systems.

You’ll find this in all industries: people are “just figuring it out” using the tools they already know. Sometimes, those tools aren’t tools at all: when there are no solutions to a problem, people will resort to doing the work manually. For Online Teachers, this means that they are writing out the same student feedback over and over again, just using different names for different students. It’s tedious work, but it gets the job done — until it’s too tedious and people look for ways of speeding up the process.

But until people recognize that they even have a problem, pen and paper will be your competitor. For those customers, you will have to do a lot of educational work to get them even to consider using your product. It may sound counter-intuitive, but when people need to be told that they have a problem, getting them to use your solution requires a lot more work than selling it to those who are already looking for it — even though the former group would benefit most from using it.

Never discount people’s willingness to solve their own problems — even when it holds them back. The human ego works in mysterious ways.

Some industries are very price-sensitive. Online teaching sure is one of those industries. People go out of their way to get stuff for free. In fact, they even collaborate and exchange information with each other for free. Online Teachers had already developed a shared Google sheet where they would exchange templates with each other.

Another free competitor. And a collaborative one at that!

This one influenced our product design significantly. We weren’t in competition with the two old-timey comment bank software products. We were actually competing with Google Sheets, both for individual use AND as a collaborative template archive. Consequentially, our product needed to work at least as well as those two systems. Knowing that allowed us to build a much more user-friendly data input flow and the FeedbackPanda Cloud, a template-sharing system with ratings and teacher-specific automation that Google couldn’t provide.

If we had built our product without considering these non-obvious competitive alternatives, I’m not sure we would have had the success we have seen.

This episode of the Bootstrapped Founder newsletter is sponsored by… me! Please check out my latest book, The Embedded Entrepreneur, which will teach you how to find problems that are worth solving by embedding yourself in a community. You’ll learn how to find the people you’ll want to serve, how to get into their communities, and how to build an audience while you build a product with and for the people you’re surrounding yourself with.

Head over to to learn more. And tell your friends: riches are in the niches, and we can all find the people we’re mean to serve and build a life-changing business in the process.

Look for the wobbly systems people have built for themselves. Do you see a lot of open-source tools cobbled together? A lot of free-tier no-code tools glued together? Can you find generic tools being applied to specific tasks? All of those — and the resources explaining how to use them — are competitors.

Look for how people in your industry use notepads and sticky notes. These are the real-world reflections of processes that have worked “well enough” for your prospective customers. If you get a chance to observe and ask them about those “hacks,” you’ll learn a lot about their critical problems and priorities.

If you’re already running a business, there are two ways for you to learn about competitive alternatives:

  • Ask your current customers what they used before they found your service. What have they tried and failed? How did the current workflow — into which your product seems to fit well enough — come to be?
  • Ask your churned customers (those who stopped using your product) what other solution they will be using. What alternatives did they choose from? How could you have retained them?

Both exit interviews and customer surveys are a reliable way of learning more about the current landscape. After all, you may have been building your business for a while, and new competitors may have snuck in without you noticing.

The exit interviews will be hard. Nobody wants to talk about negative stuff. Try encouraging churned customers with a final gift (like a gift card) to chat candidly with you. Frame this as an opportunity to make this better for other people. Tell them that they “can help to make sure that no one else runs into this problem ever again.”

One thing about talking to customers: if you get to speak to them, try to figure out how you can change your positioning as to:

  • not attract them any more customers who churned quickly
  • attract more customers who have high retention and are a “good fit.”

Positioning is an essential part of getting a business right. It’s also something you can (and will) change over time. So be prepared to think about your positioning whenever you talk to your customers.

Knowing your competitive alternatives and how your prospects and customers relate to them will allow you to be as sure as possible regarding what you offer and how you talk about it.

Understanding that your competition isn’t just made up of businesses like yours will allow you to build the most informed product possible.

Thank you for reading this week’s edition of The Bootstrapped Founder.

If you like what I wrote about, please forward the newsletter to anyone you think would enjoy it too.

You can find my book Zero to Sold at and The Embedded Entrepreneur at

If you want to help me share my thoughts and ideas with the world, please share this episode of the newsletter on Twitter or wherever you like, or reach out on Twitter at @arvidkahl.

See you next week!

Warm Regards from Berlin,


26th June

International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking – 26 June
This day aims to strengthen action and cooperation to achieve the goal of an international society free of drug abuse. Content marketing ideas:    
  • Listicle idea: X Ways for you to recognize if you are addicted to anything
  • Infographic idea: X Organizations that can help you get deaddicted
  • Video idea: A look at Punjab’s drug problem
  • Podcast idea: How are human trafficking and drug abuse-related?
UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture – 26 June
This day aims to eradicate torture and follow the terms of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Content marketing ideas:    
  • Listicle idea: X Indian freedom fighters who were tortured while fighting for independence
  • Infographic idea: X Countries with the worst human rights violations
  • Video idea: What are some modern ways of torture?
  • Podcast idea: How to rescue someone who’s a victim of domestic abuse

Seafarer Day – 26th June 2021

Day of the Seafarer – 25 June
This day recognizes the valuable contributions seafarers make to the world economy and trade, sometimes at a great personal cost. Content marketing ideas:    
  • Listicle idea: X Diseases that are common among seafarers
  • Infographic idea: X Unexpected difficulties seafarers might face on the sea
  • Video idea: How did the Suez Canal open up international trade?
  • Podcast idea: How can a seafarer make the most of their days on land?