The Power of Marginalia: Connecting the Dots Between User Annotations and Business Models


Hatched by Glasp

Jul 11, 2023

3 min read


The Power of Marginalia: Connecting the Dots Between User Annotations and Business Models


From ancient times, people have left their thoughts, learnings, and findings in the margins of a book or documents. These marginalia, or apostils, serve as valuable insights and annotations that aid in the understanding of concepts. In a similar vein, entrepreneurs can draw inspiration from the phenomenon of user annotation of texts and apply it to their business models. By analyzing the connection between marginalia and business models, we can uncover valuable lessons that can help entrepreneurs avoid common pitfalls and achieve success.

  • 1. Distillation of Knowledge: Learning from Predecessors

Research conducted by Catherine C. Marshall on the future of user interface design revealed an interesting trend among students in several university departments. These students would actively seek out consistently annotated copies of textbooks from used book dealers. Why? Because they recognized the value of their predecessors' distillation of knowledge. Similarly, entrepreneurs can learn from the experiences and insights of those who have come before them. By studying successful business models and understanding the annotations left behind by successful entrepreneurs, one can gain a deeper understanding of what works and what doesn't.

  • 2. Acquiring Customers: The Costly Challenge

One of the most common causes of failure in startups is the assumption that acquiring customers will be easy. Entrepreneurs often believe that building an interesting website, product, or service will automatically attract customers. However, this optimism can quickly lead to disappointment. As many entrepreneurs have discovered, the cost of acquiring customers (CAC) can often surpass the lifetime value of those customers (LTV). This realization is a wake-up call for entrepreneurs to reevaluate their business models and ensure that CAC is lower than LTV.

  • 3. Capital Efficiency: Recovering Acquisition Costs

In addition to acquiring customers at a reasonable cost, entrepreneurs should aim to recover the cost of acquisition within a specific timeframe. A capital-efficient business model requires the recovery of acquisition costs in under 12 months. This timeframe allows for quicker ROI and a more sustainable approach to acquiring and retaining customers. By focusing on capital efficiency and finding scalable ways to acquire customers, entrepreneurs can ensure the long-term viability of their business models.

Actionable Advice:

  • 1. Study the annotations: Just as students seek out annotated textbooks, entrepreneurs should actively seek out annotated business models. Analyze successful companies in your industry and identify the key factors that contribute to their success. Use these annotations as a guide to shape your own business model.
  • 2. Calculate CAC and LTV: Take a critical look at your business model and calculate the cost of acquiring customers versus the lifetime value they bring. If CAC exceeds LTV, it's time to reassess your strategies and find more cost-effective ways to attract and retain customers.
  • 3. Prioritize capital efficiency: Aim to recover the cost of acquiring customers within 12 months. This will ensure a more sustainable approach to customer acquisition and allow for quicker returns on investment. Look for scalable ways to acquire customers and monetize them at a higher level than your acquisition costs.


The concept of marginalia offers valuable insights for entrepreneurs looking to create successful business models. By learning from the distillation of knowledge left behind by predecessors, understanding the challenges of customer acquisition, and prioritizing capital efficiency, entrepreneurs can navigate the complexities of the business world with greater confidence. By incorporating these lessons into their strategies, entrepreneurs can increase their chances of success and build thriving businesses. So, grab your metaphorical pen, leave your own annotations, and let the power of marginalia guide you on your entrepreneurial journey.

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