Business Ideas: An Amazon Mailbox

So I ordered a bunch of stuff from Amazon this year and each time it arrived, same thing happened.  My phone rings in the early afternoon and it shows that someone is buzzing at my front door.  Since I’m not home and it doesn’t make much sense to buzz a stranger into my building, I don’t.  Then I get home and magically, there’s a package waiting for me at my front door, inside the building.  I’m not upset… almost a little impressed at their ability to get in.

My building is fairly low-key and everyone keeps to themselves.  I don’t think there’s a significant risk of people stealing my package as it sits in front of my door for a few hours but not everyone is so lucky.  There are countless videos of people stealing package from door steps, including delivery employees.  I’m not actually sure what the rules are around this but we clearly need to find another solution.  Enter the Amazon Mailbox.

The idea is that this box would be larger than your average mail box, so that it’s capable of receiving much larger packages.  I’m not entirely sure what the optimal size would be.  Perhaps a review of the average dimensions of packages shipped would shine some light on that.  There’s a good chance that we’d find a stat like 95% of packages are less than 2’x2’x2′.  If that’s the case, make it just a bit bigger and offer some XL options for those looking to receive larger packages.

So a giant mailbox eh?  Well there should probably be more to it than that.  A big mailbox is just going to be a target for theft if there aren’t any security measures.  I’m thinking a solid lock that can be opened through an NFC panel.  That way a delivery driver can receive a one-time, time-locked code which will allow them to make the delivery.  Once the package is in and the door is closed, you’re back to being the only one with the ‘key’.  If someone somehow manages to get in with a code that they weren’t supposed to, good chance it’ll contain all the metadata necessary to know who it was.

Good enough?  Not quite.  In this age, you probably need a security camera.  Perhaps one built into the actual mailbox with a birds eye lens that gives you full view of your doorway.  If it was motion activated, you could have a recording of every delivery as well as anyone else who was creeping around your front door.  In the mobile age, it would be also be nice to have a notification arrive to your phone when your mailbox has been opened so you can quickly check the footage and make sure everything was straight forward.

So where do these things go?  If you own a home, there’s probably enough real estate at the front of your house to make this work without too many issues.    Maybe it gets bolted to the floor or door.  The problem is that E-comm seems to be most heavily used in areas of high urban density.  The idea of retroactively installing these things in old apartment or condo buildings seems like an uphill battle.  I think there’s good reason to make this a standard in new buildings, but you would probably need some traction first.  Hmm…

I’m genuinely not sure if something like this would work but I’ll put it out there.  What if you created your own PO box?  Rent a space and load it up with as many of these Amazon mailboxes as logistically possible and charge something like $10/mo for a rental fee.  You might even get away with having the place fully automated.  An NFC panel on the front door could let you in while keeping uninvited visitors out.  Load the place up with security cameras and have them tethered into a central security monitoring system with clear instructions around showing up and sorting out the rift-raft when it happens.  If you have any issues, just use your app to start a customer service chat.

I can’t help but want to run the numbers for a sec… Lets say a 1000 sqft location and assume these Amazon mailboxes are 2’x2’x2′.  Without any room to walk, you could place 500 of these on the floor.  Stacked up 6′ high, that’s 1500 mailboxes.  Accommodating for walkways, let’s cut that in half and say 750 mailboxes total.  750 @ $10/month would be $7500/month in income.  Lower than I would’ve liked.  Maybe there’s a way to increase the density here.  Maybe there’s a formula that would leave us with an ideal square footage for a location.  Either way, the overhead would be extremely low if you could avoid having to staff it.  Electric, IT, security… and general corporate overhead.  I found an average rate of $23/sqft for retail.  Applying that here, we’re looking at about $2300/month in rent.  If you could keep monthly overhead for each location under $2500, you have a pretty healthy margin.  That said, 750 mailboxes @ $10/month still only amounts to $90,000 in annual revenue.  Hardly worth the effort for most.  Even with multiple locations, you’d need 12 just to break $1,000,000 in revenue.

But maybe it’s not about modern PO boxes.  Maybe that’s the penetration strategy for being able to manufacture and sell these boxes.  If you could get people using them and excited about their convenience, it’s only a matter of time until people start requesting them in their homes.  If you could get some major property development companies on board, you could have these installed in every new condo tower they build.  If the average building has (guessing) 40 units and these boxes come at a cost of $250 each, that’s a $10,000 for every new building that goes up.  If you get to the point where most new builds include a ecomm-ready mailbox, that would likely build enough traction for these things to go mainstream.  If they go mainstream, e-comm becomes that much more effective (and attractive).  If e-comm gets that much more effective and attractive, that many more people will want to buy these boxes.

All speculative, of course… just an exercise in problem solving 🙂

 

Our Most Sensible Division

I do a lot of thinking in the car.  It’s almost like a shower for me.. very meditative.  Yesterday, I literally pulled over to make a note of this thought.

The western world is clearly divided right now.  Democrats vs. Republicans.  Liberals vs. Conservatives.  Blue vs. Red.  Left vs. Right.  Sometimes it seems downright silly… like division for the sake of division.  I can confidently say that I don’t identify with either side.  One champions a compassionate approach but fails to act intelligently.  One champions an intelligent approach but fails to act compassionately.  Neither seems very interested in accountability or honest conversation.  And neither seems to realize that for one side to win, both must win.

With tribalism continuing to be one of my biggest personal frustrations, I’m motivated to understand it.  When I think about why people choose to be divided, the reasons usually aren’t that hard to find.  More often than not, it seems to be driven by fear.  And that fear tends to be driven by scarcity in some way.  Perhaps a scarcity of resources, opportunity, or safety.  In a position of abundance and security, we are much more likely to extend a helping hand to a stranger.  In a position of scarcity and fear, we only take care of those close to us.  As scarcity and fear increase, that circle gets smaller.

This would suggest that in times of peace and abundance, things like Left vs. Right don’t exist.  Yet the liberal and conservative mindset have existed since well before modern politics.  While the politicians certainly have a hand in playing up that narrative, today, perhaps there’s something else worth exploring here.

Humanity seems to be defined by some mode of evolutionary progress.  If you look at what separates our species from other intelligent animals, it’s the rate at which we’ve progressed.  Genetically, we’re almost identical to chimpanzees but in a more practical sense, we couldn’t be more different.  Comparing humans to all other known life, we seem to have stumbled onto the secret sauce of forward progress.  Yet we have such a hard time agreeing on which direction is forward and what should be considered progress.  Maybe, whatever this secret sauce is, it exists primarily is the collective subconscious.

If I were to guess at what that secret sauce might be, I would say it’s how we’ve evolved to instinctually understand the status quo.  Quite simply, there are those who would prefer to maintain it and those who would prefer to challenge it.  Generally speaking, you’re more interested in maintaining the status quo when you’re happy with your situation and challenging the status quo when you’re unhappy with your situation.  Sounds rather sensible doesn’t it?

I had a Eureka moment yesterday: You can’t challenge a status quo which doesn’t exist.  I’m big on challenging the status quo and I’m no stranger to the frustrations of those who look to maintain it in the face of progress.  Yet I was never dismissive of their value to the bigger picture and I think I now understand why.  The status quo seems to provide the foundation on which forward progress is most likely.  If everyone looked to challenge the status quo, what would they challenge?  Sounds like chaos.  Ironically, maintaining the status quo seems like an exercise in order.  Perhaps forward progress is a fine balance between chaos and order.

When I step back and think about how this perspective applies to modern society, a lot starts to make sense.  The right tends to be defined by their conservative approach – aka maintaining the status quo.  The left tends to be defined by their liberal approach – aka challenging the status quo.  Many of history’s great cultural and political clashes can be distilled down to those who wanted change and those who wanted to keep things the same.  And yet both were and probably are necessary.

One dynamic which ties in here is the dichotomy of intelligence vs. compassion.  I’ve found that the left behaves significantly more compassionately than the right while the right behaves significantly more intelligent than the left.  It has crossed my mind that those who lean more towards intelligence are more likely to find success in their lives, especially in their careers.  This would lead towards greater financial prosperity and a higher quality of life.  If you’re aware that you’re enjoying a higher quality of life than the average, would you not be motivated to maintain the status quo?  Would you not be more motivated to support those around you who have used intelligence as a path to success?  Would you not begin to assume that a path of intelligence is more rewarding than a path of compassion?  But what if you leaned more towards compassion?  What if you were sensitive to the injustices in the world and were motivated to pursue equality and social justice more than income?  And what if you were willing to accept financial disparity for the sake of helping others?  And what if you’re aware that you’re enjoying a lower quality of life than average because of that sacrifice, would you not be motivated to challenge the status quo?

The political division of our species sucks.  It often leads me to think that the best solution is no division at all and that we’re destined to arrive at some variation of a cybernetic hive mind.  Perhaps that’s still the case, but maybe not.  There seem to be some evolutionary divisions which have proven rather practical.  Males and females might be the most classic example.. having evolved a remarkably well balanced partnership over the course of evolution (albeit a little bumpy at the moment).  When it comes to the progress we’ve made over the last 10,000 years though, I might just attribute that to the balanced partnership between those who look to challenge the status quo and those who look to maintain it.

If we could learn to see one another as partners in forward progress instead of obstacles between us and power.. I can’t help but think everything would run a little more smoothly.

 

It’s Not a Disability, It’s a Genetic Variance

Over the last few years, I started realizing how much trouble we were having communicating with one another.  Less so for close friends and family.  Much more so when it comes to discussing ideologies with strangers.  Having failed at so many of these conversations, I may have learned something.  If we want to have more meaningful conversations, we need to do a better job of being honest with one another.  And that includes using the most accurate language available to us.

I hear the word disability tossed around a fair bit.  There now seems to be a disability for everything.  It’s like if you’re anything other than the ‘perfect’ human blueprint, you are somehow lesser.  And this is your disability.

Fuck that.

I read something interesting a few months ago about the victim mentality.  Someone was asked why it had gained in popularity and what made it attractive.  The answer was rather simple:  it was an easy way to be powerful.  The traditional route to power was through hard work and success, and it usually took  years.  In a society that celebrates and protects victims, why invest the time and effort into building yourself up through accountability and responsibility when you could get the same result through claiming your victimhood?  Why put in the long hours and make the hard decisions when you could look for ways in which you’ve been marginalized and call foul?

Disabled?  Why even try?  Why would you want to overcome your challenges?  Why would you want to try and find your gift?  Why not tell the world that you got a raw deal and that it’s their responsibility to make it up to you?

Because of Stephen Hawking and everyone like him.

Put him in a pro football game and I’ll show you someone who is appears severely disabled.  Place him within an academic environment where he can research, study, and share his knowledge… I’ll show you one of the most gifted individuals of the last century.  It’s only a disability when you apply yourself to the wrong task.  That means it’s not a disability, it’s a misalignment.  Your genetic variance needs to be aligned with the right task for you to do what you do best.  I would imagine Gronk would be about as successful at teaching theoretical physics to a group of PhDs as Hawking would be at catching an end-zone pass.

I think it’s about time we start making an effort to understand the situation for what it is.  There are plenty of illnesses which are real.  There are all kinds of foreign substances which can be introduced to your body which will mess your shit up.  That’s where it’s important to understand how to heal the body and bring it back to a sustainable equilibrium.  But I can’t help but think that this is very different from most if not all physical or cognitive ‘disabilities’.  Those aren’t disabilities, those are genetic variances.

When I try to think about myself from the perspective of disability, I can see plenty that’s wrong with me.  I get pretty bad pollen allergies every year.  My vision isn’t perfect.  I qualify as dyslexic.  I have a series of lingering sports injuries including chronic lower back pain and metal in my arm.  I have a heavily deviated septum.  My sense of smell sucks.  I binge eat.  And etc. And etc. And etc.  And it’s not like I’m unaware of them.  I’m working on improving the ones I can, and not stressed about the rest.

It’s funny, I’m thinking back to when I grew up and it the was kind of neighborhood where nobody was short on disadvantages.  Everyone was aware of what was making their lives hard.  We didn’t complain or expect someone else to change it though, we just assumed the deck was stacked against us.  What we would do was use that a measure of whose success was worth celebrating.  It wasn’t about who had the greatest accomplishment, it was about who did the most with the least.  I can’t help but be grateful that I was raised with that perspective.

When I think about who I am and what I’ve been given, with the perspective I have today… I see something pretty cool.  All things considered, I think I got a pretty good roll of the genetic dice.  But like anyone else, it’s a mixed bag.  The way my brain is wired allows me to do certain thing exceptionally well while it struggles with others.  Dyslexic?  Why?  Because my brain is wired to do things differently than someone else’s?  And what if I can do these things better than the average person?  Is it a disability?  Who’s to say that my unique genetic variance doesn’t simultaneously display symptoms of dyslexia while allowing my mind to do all kinds of other cool things that others struggle with

We are all our own deviation from the human blueprint.  Each variation of that blueprint comes with its own advantages and disadvantages.  And those advantages and disadvantages wills shift depending on circumstance.  The best thing we can do for ourselves is understand where we have the potential to be exceptional at and apply ourselves to the best of our abilities.   The best thing we can do as a society is to support the discovery of what makes us different, and then to support the pursuit of being our absolute best at it.  Through this, I can see a happier, more productive world.

Whatever it is that you are, there is something you do better than anyone else. If you spend your time doing that, you are not disabled, you are gifted.

Intelligence Vs. Compassion

I’ve done a lot of thinking on these two ideas over the last year or so.  The western world seems rather divided right now.. democrats vs. republicans.. liberals vs. conservatives.. blue vs. red.. left vs. right.  When you consider how much these individuals agree on, the division seems rather silly.  Yet it persists.  I have no doubt that the existing political system and those within it perpetuate this division for their own gain, but there’s something more to it than that.  They didn’t create that division, they’re just the ones exploiting it.  There’s something that exists beneath that.. something biological.

I wrote an entry a while back on thought vs. emotion.  Introspectively, I could tell that they were two different cognitive processes within my brain.  It led me to suspect that they had different roles within the human experience.  I understood that you couldn’t use emotion to do things like solve math problems or learn languages.  I also understood that happiness wasn’t a logical thought.  Seemed rather likely that the thoughtful part of the brain would pursue happiness while the emotional part of the brain allowed you to enjoy it.

Ironically, a few months later, a friend gave me a book for my birthday that discussed this topic.  The book, A General Thoery of Love, was written by a small team of MDs and PhDs in clinical psychology.  To my surprise, the authors were big fans of poetry, love, their families, and all the other soft stuff you might not associate with a scientific mind.  I must say it was done quite well and taught me a great deal about how the mind works.

One of my biggest takeaways was how obvious evolution was in determining the fundamental structure of the human brain.  The base of our brain is referred to as the reptilian brain and  controls things like your vitals and balance.  This also represents our most base instincts.. things relating to survival like the 4 Fs: feeding, fighting, fleeing, and… reproduction.  What the reptile brain seems to lack though is any sense of compassion.  I was rather surprised to find out that reptiles are known to eat their young.  Apparently the part of the brain that tells us to be kind to our kin didn’t come until afterwards.

After the reptile brain came the limbic brain.  It’s likely that this evolution occurred during the early evolution of mammals.  The theory is that when life made the jump from laying eggs to carrying their young, the brain needed to adapt appropriately.  Mammals were taking a different approach to survival, one which required them to care for their young until they were capable of fending for themselves.  They needed a way to communicate.  They needed to develop a language.  Enter the limbic brain, the emotional center of the human brain today.  The limbic brain was one of facial expressions, touch, sound, and all these other little nuances that allowed mammals to instinctively understand how one another felt.  Not a language in the classic sense, but very much a language nonetheless.

The most recent evolution of the brain is the neocortex.  It would be convenient to say that that the neocortex is unique to humans but it isn’t.  It’s present in great apes, dolphins, elephants, and most other mammals.  What seems to makes humans different is how much of brain’s mass is dedicated to the neocortex and the size of our brain relative to the size of our bodies.  As one might guess, this is the part of the brain is responsible for what we typically consider to be human intelligence: logic, abstract thought, imagination, and consciousness.

Effectively, through millions upon millions of years of evolution, our brain has equipped itself for survival, compassion, and intelligence.  In that order.  And yet the vast majority of the human brain is dedicated to its most recent addition: intelligence.  That evolution has happened rather quickly considering how long it took for the other parts of the brain to develop.  Nature rarely does anything by mistake.

I’m grateful for having learned all this because it’s given me a rather useful insight into the difference between thought and emotion.  It’s also shown me how little the general public seems to understand or appreciate how the brain works.  How often will someone talk about how they feel towards something when they’re actually thinking about it?  How often will someone claim to be using their feelings to navigate something abstract?  How often are we asked how we feel when we should be asked what we think?  I suspect there’s something worth observing here.

As someone who prioritizes thoughtfulness, logic, and truth, I’m probably more easily frustrated by this dynamic than others.  As a result, I’ve been thinking about it a fair bit and have noticed something worth sharing.  Throughout the course of recorded history, I’ve noticed a shift from emotional to intelligent.  I’m unsure if it’s a result of an ongoing biological evolution in the brain, or a gradual appreciation for what intelligence allows us to do.  Realistically, it’s probably both.  If I were to guess, natural selection favors intelligence.

Religion might be the easiest example here.  Religion has existed in some shape or form for about as long as human civilization.  Our brains are programmed to identify patterns, and once we do, we can’t help but use our imaginations to assign meaning to them.  As soon as we were able to recognize the significance of things like the sun and stars, we couldn’t help but try to tie them into one grand narrative.  Perhaps this is one of the reasons why religion is such a complex topic.. perhaps in some way, it serves as a chronology of intelligence vs. compassion.

There was a point where religion was about community and worship.. this general idea that if you were kind and compassionate to each other, your god would be kind and compassionate to you.  Over time, intelligence allowed us to realize that if we were kind and compassionate to each other, that was probably all we needed.  In that time, god went from an individual who was supposed to be loved or feared, to something much more abstract.  Since then, religion has become less about worship and more about philosophical teachings relating to morality.  Unfortunately for these religions, they often attributed their teachings to the word of god rather than what they most likely were: a reflection of how humanity understood morality at that point in history.  As a result, we were put in a position where humanity’s collective understanding of morality was evolving and god’s wasn’t.  How could that be.  Something wasn’t right.

As the centuries went by, the intellectual crowd kept coming up with better and better reasons to stray from religion.  The politics, the corruption, the lack of evidence, the logical fallacies, the tribalism… it just looked like a big pile of nope.  Even the renaiisance experienced a big shift from religion to the sciences.  And now, in the 21st century, religion looks to be as irrelevant as ever.  The world’s brightest minds are notoriously non-religious.  The vast majority of people STEM careers are non-religious.  The vast majority of business and industry leaders are non-religious.  The vast majority of recognized philosophers are non-religious.  The only leaders that I can think of who tend to be religious are political leaders.  As their actions tend to show, it’s a function of votes and job security more than loyalty to the cause.

The better we get at using the intelligent part of our brain, the better we get at discerning the difference between real and not real.  As we get better at discerning between real and not real, truth and reality become increasingly important to us.  As truth and reality become increasing important to us, the fictions of religion becomes much less attractive.  While I think this movement away from religion is justified if not an essential part of our evolution, we should be mindful not to throw away the baby with the bath water.  Religion was among the first establishments to champion the ideas of kindness, community, and morality.  Those ideas are worth bringing with us to where ever we go next.

When I think about where we are now and where we go next, I can’t help but think that computers are rather central to the conversation.  When I think about how computers were designed from the beginning, I can’t help but think that they were designed as an extension of our neocortex.  Computers are logical by nature.  If a program has a line of code which contains a logical fallacy, it creates an error.  And while our computers inch towards levels of artificial intelligence that rival our own, there’s an obvious absence of emotion or survival instincts.  This idea that one of humanity’s most significant creations is an extension of one of our most significant evolutionary advantages…. doesn’t strike me as a coincidence.

I’ve been thinking about writing a book for a couple year now.  It’s working title is the Vulcan Republic.  The idea is a mash-up between Plato’s Republic and the Vulcan philosophies from Star Trek.  One takes place in the past, using logic in search of how one would create a Utopian society.  The other takes place in the future where a species just like humanity embraced logic and created that utopia.  Considering the path that we’ve taken over the course of our evolution, is this so unlikely?  Is it so far fetched that intelligence is our guiding star?

MBTI helped me understand how strong the division is between thinkers and feelers.  I know this all too well as the feelers tend to get upset with me for thinking too much and feeling too little.  But then I ask them why I should feel more and think less, and they don’t have a reason.  They just feel that way.  As it turns out, the part of the brain that knows why things happen is the thinking part.  And unfortunately for me, there are statistically more feelers than thinkers.  But I suspect this is changing.  I suspect that every generation, on average, has been more thoughtful than their parents’ generation.  I expect that computers will help kids to learn and embrace logic faster that previous generations.  I expect that the kids growing up today will respond to the highly emotional conversations around current events by learning to be more thoughtful and sensible in the way they discuss ideas with one another.

That’s a future that excites me.  But it doesn’t excite everyone.  The more emotional crowd aren’t always the biggest fan of computers, logic, or intelligence.  I’m often faced with situations where they consider these things to be threatening.  They’ll use words like empty, cold, or robotic.  They seem to assume that intelligence and compassion are binary, that it’s one or the other.  To that point, I think they’re wrong.  I think that we could all be reminded of a simple truth: The most intelligent decision someone can make is a compassionate decision, and the most compassionate decision someone can make is an intelligent decision.

Intelligence and compassion tend to operate like a map and compass.  Intelligence is a tool that helps you read the terrain and understand the most effective way to move from point A to point B.  Compassion is like a compass which might not tell you much about where you are or how to get to where you want to go, but it’ll always give you a sense of direction.  Too often, people will lead with unintelligent compassion, resulting in good intentions but progress in the wrong direction.  Watching the social justice warriors embolden the conservative crowd reminded me of this.  But at the same time, there are those who lead with intelligence and a lack of compassion which lead to productive actions which are counter-productive to humanity’s collective goals.  You don’t have to look much further than Thanos or any bond villain to see how that plays out.  I suspect that for real progress, we need to embrace both, and understand that when we are at our best, they are one and the same.

Nature rarely does anything by mistake… Survive.  Be compassionate.  Be intelligent.