Friday Updates: Crypto, Solana, Preceden Improvements, and the Madness of Crowds

Photo by Lenstravelier

Hey friends – it’s been a while since I posted an update. I’ve been heads down on a number of things and just haven’t been prioritizing blogging, but figure it’s good to do every now and then. Shout out to the ~3 of you who read these :).

Crypto

For anyone who follows me on Twitter, you may have seen me periodically retweeting or favoriting bearish crypto tweets. For a long time I have been super bearish on crypto and honestly still am. I think we’re in a massive bubble at the moment that’s due to pop in a big way in part due to the mania wearing off and in part due to the massive amount of fraud in the market right now. And blockchain technology just doesn’t seem super useful.

There’s a famous chart called the Gartner hype cycle that always comes to mind:

I’m of the opinion that we’re near the top of that Peak of Inflated Expectations curve, both in terms of crypto expectations and coin prices. But I do think there’s a chance that in the coming decade after the coming crash that we’ll see practical applications come out of all this.

Solana

In order to be more educated about crypto I’ve been investing a few hours each day into learning how to develop on the Solana blockchain. I’ve found it to be a pretty steep learning curve – I’m having to learn about blockchains, Solana, TypeScript, Rust, and how it all fits together. I don’t have any practical applications in mind yet, but am enjoying learning nonetheless.

I’m trying to keep an open mind – we’ll see what comes out of it all.

Preceden

I’ve made a ton of progress on Preceden in the last few months. Things like:

I haven’t been working on it as much the last few weeks because I’ve been putting time into learning Solana instead, but still have a lot planned for Preceden in the coming months.

Also, at the end of December 2020 I switched Preceden’s pricing to have recurring annual plans (whereas before they didn’t renew automatically), which means those renewals will start hitting in a few weeks. It should help drive a lot of revenue growth for Preceden in 2022. Fingers crossed the renewal rate is decent – we will see.

Help Scout

Mostly status quo for my contract work at Help Scout. Recent projects have included:

  • Reworking the Daily Metrics Email that goes out to the entire company
  • Setting up reporting to estimate cash payback (ie, if we spend $X acquiring a cohort of new customers, how long do we expect it to be paid back when looking solely at cash payments).
  • Updating Account Executive commission structures
  • Analyzing how customers are interacting with new pricing we introduced for Messages
  • Helping a bit with hiring: we’re currently in the process of hiring an Analytics Engineer and Product Analyst

I will be reducing my hours from 18/week to 12/week starting in January which will free up more time in my schedule for Preceden, Solana, and whatever else piques my interest in 2022.

What I’m reading

Speaking of crypto, I’ve been reading Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds by Charles MacKay, a fantastic book about past bubbles. It’s amazing how many parallels there are between previous bubbles and what we’re going through now in crypto. And things will probably end just as badly.

On that happy note, I’ll end this update :).

Hope y’all are doing well 👋

Splitting a Solana Keypair into Public and Private Keys

In this guide we’re going to dive into how to take a Solana keypair and break it its corresponding public and private keys.

Lets go ahead and use the Solana CLI to generate a new wallet with the keypair stored in a File System Wallet:

$ solana-keygen new --outfile ~/my-solana-wallet/demo.json
      
Generating a new keypair
For added security, enter a BIP39 passphrase
NOTE! This passphrase improves security of the recovery seed phrase NOT the
keypair file itself, which is stored as insecure plain text
BIP39 Passphrase (empty for none): 
Wrote new keypair to /Users/matt/my-solana-wallet/demo.json
=============================================================================
pubkey: HAE1oNnc3XBmPudphRcHhyCvGShtgDYtZVzx2MocKEr1
=============================================================================
Save this seed phrase and your BIP39 passphrase to recover your new keypair:
favorite maid bind piece social father neutral over unusual tank brother code
=============================================================================

This command generates a JSON file containing the keypair:

$ cat ~/my-solana-wallet/demo.json

[4,182,130,247,119,117,227,207,112,73,170,126,222,197,244,99,215,107,255,202,33,43,36,17,104,111,157,246,196,192,174,95,240,23,238,206,118,215,154,238,229,96,11,37,156,123,51,223,5,231,17,117,86,136,103,14,75,95,175,132,148,54,1,46]  

This is an array containing 64 values:

The first 32 values represent the private key:

private_key_bytes = [4, 182, 130, 247, 119, 117, 227, 207, 112, 73, 170, 126, 222, 197, 244, 99, 215, 107, 255, 202, 33, 43, 36, 17, 104, 111, 157, 246, 196, 192, 174, 95]

The second 32 values represent the public key:

public_key_bytes = [240, 23, 238, 206, 118, 215, 154, 238, 229, 96, 11, 37, 156, 123, 51, 223, 5, 231, 17, 117, 86, 136, 103, 14, 75, 95, 175, 132, 148, 54, 1, 46]

While this is the public key, it’s not in the same format as the public key displayed by the Solana CLI above. In order to format it that way, we need to convert this array of integer values into base 58.

In Ruby we’ll first convert the array to hex (base 16):

public_key_hex = public_key_bytes.pack("C*").unpack("H*").first

And then we can use a base 58 script to convert the hex into the base 58:

public_key = Base58.encode(public_key_hex)

And that gives us the same public key aka wallet address that we saw earlier in the Solana CLI output:

HAE1oNnc3XBmPudphRcHhyCvGShtgDYtZVzx2MocKEr1

We can follow the same process to get the base 58 private key:

KQ3cGFBdjJuRsB7U1K4to6cTGBPhgukqPgsi5pryr8v

And also the base 58 keypair (which is the same thing you would get if you clicked the Export Private Key button in a Phantom Wallet, but note that it’s not actually the private key, it’s the keypair with both the private and public key – I suspect they call it that to make it clear to users that it includes the private key):

6Tyktf6mEqUMEKm2ZpLn3srEwk9zsT5jiE54EgPgToikMFYww1LGFUXgwgr6hvc9CikpaNaBH2vmkmqN3Usrxpd

Try it yourself

1. Create a new folder

2. Create a file called base58.rb and copy the base 58 Ruby script from this tutorial

3. Create another file named like keypair.rb and paste in the following script:

require_relative "base58"
def bytes_to_base58(bytes)
hex = bytes.pack("C*").unpack("H*").first
Base58.encode(hex)
end
keypair_bytes = [4,182,130,247,119,117,227,207,112,73,170,126,222,197,244,99,215,107,255,202,33,43,36,17,104,111,157,246,196,192,174,95,240,23,238,206,118,215,154,238,229,96,11,37,156,123,51,223,5,231,17,117,86,136,103,14,75,95,175,132,148,54,1,46]
private_key_bytes = keypair_bytes[0, 32]
public_key_bytes = keypair_bytes[32..-1]
puts "Keypair:", bytes_to_base58(keypair_bytes)
puts "\nPublic Key:", bytes_to_base58(public_key_bytes)
puts "\nPrivate Key:", bytes_to_base58(private_key_bytes)
view raw keypair.rb hosted with ❤ by GitHub

4. Replace the content of keypair_bytes with the value from your File System Wallet (you can use solana config get to get the path to your keypair, then use the cat command like above to get the content).

5. Then from the command line simply run ruby keypair.rb to run the script:

$ ruby keypair.rb 
 
Keypair:
6Tyktf6mEqUMEKm2ZpLn3srEwk9zsT5jiE54EgPgToikMFYww1LGFUXgwgr6hvc9CikpaNaBH2vmkmqN3Usrxpd

Public Key:
HAE1oNnc3XBmPudphRcHhyCvGShtgDYtZVzx2MocKEr1

Private Key:
KQ3cGFBdjJuRsB7U1K4to6cTGBPhgukqPgsi5pryr8v

Starting with a Base 58 Keypair

You can follow a similar process to take a base 58 keypair (like you would get from Export Private Key in a Phantom wallet) to derive the public and private keys:

require_relative "base58"
def bytes_to_base58(bytes)
hex = bytes.pack("C*").unpack("H*").first
Base58.encode(hex)
end
keypair = "6Tyktf6mEqUMEKm2ZpLn3srEwk9zsT5jiE54EgPgToikMFYww1LGFUXgwgr6hvc9CikpaNaBH2vmkmqN3Usrxpd"
keypair_hex = Base58.decode(keypair).rjust(128, "0")
keypair_bytes = [keypair_hex].pack('H*').bytes.to_a
private_key_bytes = keypair_bytes[0, 32]
public_key_bytes = keypair_bytes[32..-1]
puts "Public Key:", bytes_to_base58(public_key_bytes)
puts "\nPrivate Key:", bytes_to_base58(private_key_bytes)
view raw keypair58.rb hosted with ❤ by GitHub
$ ruby keypair58.rb

Public Key:
HAE1oNnc3XBmPudphRcHhyCvGShtgDYtZVzx2MocKEr1

Private Key:
KQ3cGFBdjJuRsB7U1K4to6cTGBPhgukqPgsi5pryr8v

Using a Phantom Wallet Address with the Solana CLI

I’m learning about Solana and wanted to try accessing the address I set up with Phantom via the Solana CLI.

For anyone Googling how to accomplish this, here are the steps I used:

Install the Solana CLI

First you’ll need to install the Solana CLI.

Note that the installation script assumed I was using Bash and added the Solana CLI to Bash’s PATH variable, but my Mac is using the Z Shell (zsh), so I had to manually add the Solana CLI to the Z Shell PATH variable:

vi ~/.zshrc 
export PATH="/Users/matt/.local/share/solana/install/active_release/bin:$PATH"

Generate a File System Wallet

From the command line, run:

$ solana-keygen recover 'prompt:?key=0/0' --outfile ~/.config/solana/id.json

This will prompt for your Secret Recovery Phrase (which you can access through the Phantom Wallet’s settings). Enter it and when prompted to continue enter “y” to generate the local keypair file:

[recover] seed phrase: 
[recover] If this seed phrase has an associated passphrase, enter it now. Otherwise, press ENTER to continue: 
Recovered pubkey `abc123`. Continue? (y/n): y
Wrote recovered keypair to /Users/matt/.config/solana/id.json

If all went well you should be able to run a command like solana balance to access the account balance:

$ solana balance

0.123456789 SOL

You can also confirm that the file you generated above maps back to the public key associated with your Phantom wallet:

$ solana-keygen pubkey

abc123

Or verify that the public key is correctly associated with your local private key:

$ solana-keygen verify abc123

Verification for public key: abc123: Success

Friday Updates: New Homepage, Focusing on Professionals, Data Intake Form, Acquisitions Anonymous, Startup

Photo by Manuel Venturini

Hey friends, it’s been a few weeks since my last update. I’m probably not going to do these weekly right now, but hopefully can still find time for one or two a month going forward.

Preceden

New homepage

For years now Preceden’s homepage has had a sign up form above the fold:

There was a time when the sign up page was separate, but I A/B tested it back in like 2014 and putting the sign up form on the homepage almost doubled sign ups, and so that’s where it’s remained ever since.

There was an example timeline below the fold and there’s also a whole section of the site with examples, but a large % of users signed up without actually seeing the type of timelines that Preceden can create. And as a result, a lot bail immediately after signing up, I suspect because there’s some misalignment between what type of timeline they expect vs reality.

To remedy this, Milan (the front-end designer I work with) and I redesigned the homepage to ensure everyone visiting has a better idea of what Preceden is capable of:

The tradeoff is that the homepage to sign up conversion rate winds up dropping, but I’m alright with that because new sign ups are a lot higher quality now and I’m not wasting the time of people that Preceden isn’t a good fit for.

The day after this change there was a huge spike in sign ups – about double compared to the day prior. My optimistic take on it at the time was that the homepage was resonating with a lot more visitors which was leading to more sign ups than in the past. But… after digging in it turned out that a large % of the sign ups were bots. Whomp whomp. I suspect that there are bots that look for /signups paths, fill out the form with garbage content, and then look for more forms in-app to spam. Preceden’s in-app experience doesn’t lend itself well to bots so all of the bots gave up immediately after signing up, but it still wound up inflating sign ups and hurting a bunch of post-sign up conversion rates. I was able to prevent the bot sign ups by looking at a few factors like whether they had keystrokes on the sign up form (these bots did not) which dropped sign ups back down to a more realistic level.

Focusing on professionals

When people sign up for Preceden, I ask them what they plan to use it for. Historically the options were Professional Use, Personal Use, School, and Teaching. Preceden has been a general purpose timeline maker tool and these are the groups that virtually everyone falls into. But… being general purpose is tough. It’s difficult to focus the copy on one audience, it’s difficult to focus the product, etc. I’ve been hesitant to focus on one because no single group dominates revenue. For example, people who choose Professional Use have made up about 5% of sign ups but 40% of revenue. The risk of focusing on them is that you execute on it poorly and put the other 60% of revenue at risk.

But… after years of waffling on this issue, that’s the direction I’m now headed: focusing on professionals. They are great customers and there’s a lot of long term upside if I can pull it off, even though I might wind up seeing lower revenue in the short term.

Practically speaking, it means things like:

  • Removing School and Teaching from the sign up form options
  • Focusing the examples on professionals
  • Focusing the copy on project planning and whatnot
  • Reworking the plans which have historically included a low-cost Student plan

We’ll see how it all turns out, but I’m optimistic and excited to work on it.

Help Scout

Michael, the new data lead who joined in May, set up a data request intake form which has gone a long way towards organizing our day-to-day data work at Help Scout. Here’s the current version:

These get sent to an Asana board with lists that we can move the tasks around as needed: Inbox, Backlog, Blocked, In Progress, and Complete.

Should have set something up like this a long time ago.

What I’m listening to

What I’m watching

Startup on Netflix:

Take care y’all.