Better than nothing

“As you can tell from the title, we are trying to lower your initial expectations." Also, 7 other things worth your time.

Quote of the Day: “The client fell in love, head over heels … She walked in with a $12,000 bag and looked so legitimate. But she was a snoop, a looky-loo. The other broker and I realized it on the last visit, when we walked in the bedroom and found her going through the top drawer of his night table.”

—Manhattan real estate agent Bonnie Lindenbaum, describing her experience showing Dick Cavett’s apartment to potential tenants she later realized were just curious fans, as part of a WSJ article on what it’s like to represent celebrity-owned properties. (WSJ, $)

Welcome as always to our new subscribers. There are quite a few of you today, and I want to offer my sincere thanks for being here. (And thanks as well to our loyal, longtime readers!) I hope you enjoy Understandably, and that you’ll share it with friends.

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The rule of low expectations

I live in a suburb outside New York City, but I’m writing to you today from rural New Hampshire. My wife's parents live here, and we love visiting. It's a beautiful place, lots of opportunity to experience nature and awe.

But there's one practical problem: Internet connectivity. A study in 2018 found about one quarter of Americans who live in rural areas can't get reliable, high-speed connections, and up here, we’re among them.

I know this could seem like a First World problem, but if your work or school requires a fast Internet connection, it’s an issue. That's why I've been watching with interest as Elon Musk's Starlink satellite internet service has begun to roll out.

I'm on the waiting list for the public beta test, which is apparently just getting its first non-employee participants.

While reviewing the reports, I realized that there's something genius about how Musk introduced the product—intentionally setting very low expectations, which lines it up for great success as a result.

I mean, Starlink literally called this the “Better Than Nothing Beta.”

“As you can tell from the title, we are trying to lower your initial expectations,” Starlink said in emails to the users who were selected for the first go-round, according to CNBC. “Expect to see data speeds vary from 50Mb/s to 150Mbs and latency from 20ms to 40ms over the next several months as we enhance the Starlink system. There will also be brief periods of no connectivity at all.”

Against that bar, almost any kind of positive result would vastly overdeliver.

And so far, some beta users who have had the opportunity to try it out have been taking to social media to announce that they've seen much more than Starlink promised.

“Starlink is a game changer,” wrote one beta tester. “[B]efore I was getting 0.5-12mb/s now I get 100-160mb/s.”

Now, perhaps you're thinking, “Hmmm, how do I apply this rule to my life or my business?” I think it's definitely worth considering—but also know that there are a few factors required to give any shot a chance of success.

First, this only works in business if you can identify true customer pain. 

Believe me, after living in urban or suburban areas, lacking access to high speed internet in a rural area is significant customer pain.

(By the way: Attention world! In case it’s not obvious, I'm eager for Starlink, but I would be willing to pay a lot for any effective solution.)

Second, you’d need customers who are willing to accept a short-term, less-than-ideal solution, as part of their hope for a better, longer-term solution.

Third, somewhat related, you likely need scarcity. Starlink's messaging works here in part because there are few other options, and because the number of beta test slots is still small. 

According to PCMag, Starlink's public beta focuses on rural users in Idaho, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin; those of us a bit farther east have to continue to wait.

Fourth, there has to be minimal downside. This is why “better than nothing” works for high-speed internet connectivity, but it would not work for something where failing to meet a minimal standard would result in really bad outcomes. 

“Better Than Nothing” automobile brakes or vaccinations would probably be less appealing.

Finally, perhaps most crucial: Remember that you're trying to set expectations low for your customers, not for yourself or your team. 

The backbone of Starlink would be a network of ultimately thousands of satellites in low earth orbit, which would cost at least $10 billion to build and launch.

But as CNBC points out, SpaceX anticipates that overall revenue could eclipse $30 billion a year, which would be something like 10 times what the company currently makes from its rocket business.

So, that's the plan: Leverage low short-term expectations for customers, while setting high expectations internally.

I hope it works. Meanwhile, you’ll have to excuse me; I have to finish this article before I burn through all the data on my cell phone.

7 other things worth your time

  • It looks as if Democrats have won one of the two Senate seats in Georgia, with the other too close to call—separated right now by less than 2,000 votes, which will decide whether we have united or divided government in Washington for at least the next two years. A couple of links if you want to follow the results as they’re counted: here and this one. (AJC, FiveThirtyEight)

  • The head of government in Scotland warned President Trump not to try to visit his Turnberry golf resort there this month, given that the country is on lockdown. This came after reports that the airport in Glasgow had been warned to expect the arrival of a U.S. military plane used by Trump on Jan. 19. “We are not allowing people to come into Scotland now without an essential purpose,” First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said. “Coming to play golf is not what I would consider an essential purpose.” (The Washington Post, $)

  • Overwhelmed local officials, trying to distribute covid-19 vaccines, are now turning to party and event planning sites like Eventbrite to let people make appointments. (NPR)

  • The college football championship game might be pushed back due to a Covid outbreak at Ohio State. Some other reports said a decision had already been made, but as of when I’m writing this it wasn’t clear. Separately, the head coach, two assistants, and two players on the Cleveland Browns all tested positive, which means they’ll have to miss their team’s first playoff game in 14 years. (ESPN)

  • The Pentagon will have to move fairly quickly to remove all Confederate names from Defense Department owned property under the Defense Act passed last week, by appointing an eight-member commission tasked with the job, by March. Up for renaming are bases like Fort Bragg and Fort Benning, but also a few Navy ships named after Confederate sailors and military victories. President-elect Biden could also, at least in theory, preempt the whole thing by renaming bases, ships and buildings by executive order. (Politico)

  • Lindsey Buckingham, formerly of Fleetwood Mac, who is apparently in failing health, just sold his entire musical catalog. The big get in it is the 1977 hit, Go Your Own Way. Terms weren’t disclosed, but when Stevie Nicks sold her catalog last year, she reportedly got $60 million. (Showbiz 411)

  • Thousands of protesters had gathered in Washington in advance of Congress counting electoral college votes and certifying Biden’s win, Wednesday. People are anticipating violence, which makes me quite sad for the city I called home for about a decade. I hope they’re wrong. (WTOP)

Thanks for reading, and happy new year! Photo courtesy of Starlink. That’s a rocket carrying 60 of their satellites. Oh, I wrote about Starlink previously at If you liked this post, and you’re not yet a subscriber, gosh, what are you waiting for? Please sign up for the daily email newsletter, with thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of 5-star ratings from happy readers.  

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