A few months ago, I went to the Burning Man festival in Nevada. This was my third year and as always, it was a hugely inspirational experience.
It gave me some time to reflect on what I’m doing with my life and inspired me to write this post. I originally jumped into the tech startup world for two reasons:
- I liked creating cool things that people needed.
- I liked that it allowed me to see my ideas to fruition quickly.
Originally, I think the second reason was more of an insecurity to me. I needed to prove to myself that I could have an idea, do what was necessary to make it a reality, and then have people use it. I’ve proven this to myself a few times at this point so it’s not as much of a focus for me.
The first reason is the core reason why I’m still passionate about the tech startup world. It’s also why I think it’s important to regularly ask yourself:
“Why are you doing what you are doing?”
There are a lot of distractions along the way. Building a startup is an incredibly challenging experience. It is the most rewarding thing I have ever done but is also at times the most demoralizing thing I’ve ever experienced. Once good friends have threatened to sue me. Twitter’s API and policy changes have destroyed months of our work and vision. Advisors and investors have publicly questioned my ability to lead. I see the future of the things I’ve poured my heart and soul into threatened on a regular bases. This constant demoralization is not easy. You need to remind yourself of the bigger reasons that inspire you to do what you are doing.
For a lot of people this is ambition to be “successful”. I actually don’t think ambition for success is a good motivator. Paul Graham points out that the definition of success in a startup is that the founders get rich. Failure, is when they get nothing. So many people in this industry kill themselves because they want to get rich. A lot of the founders that I’ve met don’t actually enjoy what they are doing. They are doing it because they know they have a chance at success and they tell themselves they enjoy what they are doing because of that chance. It’s a lottery ticket.
If you are not enjoying what you are doing, you are sacrificing your well-being. I’m not willing to sacrifice my well-being for a chance at something.
I am however wiling to enjoy what I’m doing for a real and authentic reason. I think this is different for different people but it’s important to ask yourself the question above and find that reason. I’m most happy when I’m making things that people need. Broken down a little further, I’m most happy when I’m making people’s lives better.
I feel like I make people’s lives better when I write about my startup experiences and share them with people who might find themselves in my same shoes.
GoChime makes the lives of business owners better by allowing them to target people who have expressed interest to buy their products. We also make people’s lives better when we deliver the right offers to the right people when they truly need them. When we screw that up we are not making people’s lives better. Constantly optimizing the latter has been and will continue to be a focus of mine.
Why is making people’s lives better so important to me? Ultimately, I think it boils down to my belief that we are all in this together (thanks Burning Man! ). So, making people’s lives better has the potential to make all of our lives better, moving humanity forward as a whole.
If I wake up one day and can’t honestly say that I am making people’s lives better, then I will know it’s time to make a change.
(photo credit: Brandon Christopher Warren)
I was recently inspired by my friend Reece Pacheco to make monthly changes in my life and routine. He’s calling his concept 12experiments, and it stems from the idea that you don’t need a big event (like New Years), to make or test changes in your life. My change for this month is:
I used to use writing as my “artistic outlet”. Whether it was poetry or simply writing in my blog, it allowed me to express my thoughts and ideas creatively. Somewhere along the hectic startup path I stopped carving the time for writing. Well, I’m bringing it back!
Like most changes or actions towards goals, I think it’s important to start small and build momentum. I’m starting with just 30 minutes per weekday to get my writing muscle moving again. I expect to be spending much of my time writing for our business blog and my personal blog but will dedicate significant time to general creative writing sessions.
Based on Reece’s recommendation, I’m posting this experiment here so that it’s public to better hold myself accountable. If you’d like to join in on the fun, shoot me a message and we can all help hold each other accountable.
I recently hiked the 96 mile Maah Daah Hey trail with my mom and brother. It was one of the most physically challenging yet rewarding things I have ever done. As I was hiking, I couldn’t help but notice how analogous this backpacking trip was to building a startup.
The trip was NOT easy. I got terrible blisters from my boots the first day and hiked the remaining 80 miles in Crocs. We hiked nearly 15 hours per day, were constantly pulling off ticks from our clothes and skin, and I almost backed into a five foot long coiled rattle snake.
In a startup, shit happens. Sometimes you have to wear different shoes. You have to work long hours, get rid of ticks, and avoid rattle snakes that could poison your company.
Knowing that you have to hike 96 miles while you are hiking, is an extremely daunting thought. I didn’t train whatsoever for this hike and quite honestly probably shouldn’t have been out there. There were mileposts (like the one above) that counted every single mile of the Maah Daah Hey trail. When I think back, these mileposts were the reason I made it through the hike. Each milepost gave you a little nudge of momentum. They allowed you to change your perception of the trip from, “holy shit I have to hike 96 miles!?”, to “okay, I just have to get to the next milepost”. Some miles were harder than others, but it went on like this, one milepost at a time for 96 miles until the hike was finished.
Putting mileposts into your startup process is crucial. The amount you have to accomplish and the complex problems you have to solve, are also often extremely daunting. I think we do a pretty good job of putting mileposts into our process at GoChime. We break our tasks into weekly “sprints”. These sprints are our mileposts. Each week we prioritize (or re-prioritize) what needs to be done, then break that into smaller pieces that can be accomplished in a week. Some sprints are harder than others, but each sprint we complete gives us another nudge of momentum and pushes us forward. I have no idea how many mileposts we will hit before we are content with GoChime’s success (a lot more than 96!), but we intend to keep pushing forward, one milepost at a time, until we get there.
I had a conversation with my cousin, an aspiring entrepreneur, this morning that reminded me of how “lean” our start really was, so I thought I’d publish it here. The conversation was on gchat and I just copied and pasted it here which is why the format and punctuation are weird.
Twepto was the name of the company before we pivoted into GoChime.
“I feel like I’ve asked you this before, maybe not. But we’re in this catch 22 where investors want to see that people will buy our product, but we need money to be able to develop it and show it to customers
we’re kind of stuck”
i don’t know how it would work with your app but you need to prove traction even if you aren’t putting something “real” in front of people.
here is what josh and i did (and maybe you can get some ideas):
we literally searched twitter for expressions of intent, then manually sent affiliate links to those people based on that intent. we used bit.ly links so we could also track clicks.
from there we had enough data to know that it was working well and i asked a few startup friends if they knew anyone who would be interested in the service.
we made the landing page for www.twepto.com with no real backend or app
got 3-4 clients who were willing to try it out and pay us (via paypal)
when volume went up we used some third party tools to capture the tweets and then mass upload response @mentions to them (hootsuite)
we did that for a long time because we weren’t developers. we used some of the money we made to pay contractors to build the actual functionality behind it.
the point being: we asked people to pay when we didn’t have anything real behind it. we did it manually.
Obviously, a lot has happened since the time I’m talking about in this conversation. We’ve found a rockstar technical cofounder, went through the TechStars program, and raised a significant seed round of financing. The startup game is a rollercoaster of ups and downs and when you look back you realize just how far you’ve come. I love working in this industry. I couldn’t see myself having more fun doing something else.
The majority of people believe it is too difficult, or even impossible, to actually “work” while embarking on long-term world travel. “How could you possibly accomplish anything productive and bring in income while constantly on the move?”
If you are part of this group of naysayers, I’ve got news for you: A growing number of people (including myself) are hitting the road and seeing the world, WHILE working.
“But HOW?” ..you might ask.
In terms of jobs- they vary, but usually revolve around a computer and the internet (I’m not talking about bar tending from place to place here).
In terms of tools- there are a few that help: DropBox, Grasshopper, and Evernote make my working life much easier on the road.
But what is the real secret? What is the trick to balancing an endless bucket of brand new experiences and adventure with actual work?
Working in Sprints!
In athletics, anaerobic sprinting is known to naturally release Human Growth Hormone (HGH) in your body, which increases athletic performance and slows down the effects of aging.
Just like in athletics, working in sprints actually increases your work performance. Working in sprints, means going an extended period of time not working, and then taking a period of time to work very hard (and smart).
Waking up early can change your life! Early morning time is peaceful. You can use it to do creative work, take time to yourself, or for learning – things that are so easily lost once mid-morning’s hectic hand knocks at your door.
Here are 11 tips for waking up early so that you can enjoy your day before the world starts moving:
1. Think Right Away:
Right when you wake up in the morning, do something that requires you to think a little bit. I usually read the comments on my Instagram, or I’ll taking down some notes for my blog. Playing Angry Birds right when you wake up is perfect, as long as you can keep from getting sucked in and playing for too long. Do NOT check Email. Email is suicide this early in the morning. The first hours of the day are peaceful and you have a clear head. You can use that to your advantage. Don’t ruin it with Email. In general, if you can get your brain thinking about something other than how warm your bed is, it’s less likely that you will fall back into dream land.
2. Tongue Yourself:
Once I sit up in the morning, I usually rub the tip of my tongue across the roof of my mouth a few times. Try it. You’ll notice the nerves in the top of your mouth kick to life a little bit. I learned this one from a narcoleptic friend. No joke. He does this when he’s out of medication or if he’s worried that he is going to fall asleep at the wheel. If it works for narcoleptic people, it will work for you in the morning.
(Itacaré, Brazil – 2010)
There is nothing more daunting while traveling the world than checking in to find a full email inbox. The same goes for Facebook and Twitter communications! The following are 8 tips I’ve found to help minimize trivialities and keep from feeling overwhelmed when I get online for the first time after (for example) two weeks on the beach in Brazil:
I. Use proxy email addresses
I have 3 levels of email addresses:
- Spam – the one that I know will get spammed – I use this one for surveys and forms that I know will spam me. I don’t even check this email. The only reason I have it is because it has helped me get a free sandwich here and there.
- Mid-level – the one that could get spammed – I use this email address for newsletters that I “might” be interested in. I give this email address away whenever I don’t trust something completely. This email forwards to my main email portal on Gmail (the only one I check). I can turn this one off by simply turning off email forwarding.
- Exclusive – the one for people I trust – My friends, family, and business colleagues get this email address. I never put this email address into online forms, including credit card and online banking accounts, which tend to make it very difficult to unsubscribe from their “important” email.
When people recommend you on LinkedIn it helps establish your credibility. In this day and age a LinkedIn recommendation could mean the difference between getting and not getting a job. So how do you get a person who you’ve done business with (who is probably busy as shit) to write you a recommendation?
I get asked to write recommendations a lot and it’s something I rarely have time to do. I got an email from my friend Chad Bowe the other day that prompted me to write a recommendation for him right away. Here is what it said:
How are things? Hope all is well. You in the US or some other part of the planet? Listen, I am trying to get some recommendations for LinkedIn. Can you write something about me in exchange for the recommendation below? Thanks in advance buddy. Let me know..
Austin visited the Bahamas upon request by the Bahamas Internet Association to present on the topic of internet entrepreneurship. Being one of the organizers, I got to spend 2 or 3 days with Austin and in that time I became impressed with his ingenuity, creativity and pragmatic perspective and approach to business (and life for that matter). Austin is a young entrepreneur with lots of ideas and a few companies already under his belt – I have a good feeling that the world will be seeing a lot more from him in the days and years to come!
What made me drop everything and write him a quick recommendation? He had already written one for me!
If you’re trying to gather recommendations for your LinkedIn profile, try writing a short recommendation for that person first. Flattering someone before asking them to do something helps. If it worked on me, it is going to work on other people too. Good luck!
Photo credit: lastbeats
I had the honor of doing an interview with Carlos Miceli from OwlSparks last week. Carlos is a great friend and colleague and we had a fun discussion. Here are some of the topics we cover in the video:
- Thoughts on minimalism and mobile lifestyle
- Taking a break from blogging to focus on entrepreneurship first
- Thoughts on the content publishing revolution
- The knowledge gained from applying to startup incubators
- Our experiences with startup co-founders, the problem when involving friends, and thoughts on being a “solopreneur”
- The necessity of working full time on your project
In my opinion Carlos has one of the most insightful perspectives on Twitter, you can follow him here: @CarlosMiceli. Thanks Carlos!
It’s been repeated like a broken record, and I’m sure I’ve repeated it many times through this blog: Entrepreneurship is a roller coaster. You have extreme highs and extreme lows. If you are not manic-depressive before going into entrepreneurship, there is a good chance you will be on the other end. The highs outweigh the lows, for most people, and that is why we do what we do. The lows are so excruciating though that it feels like the world is going to end. Getting out of your lows is more important than getting to your highs. Here are two techniques I’ve adopted for doing this:
1) Talk to your friends who are High -
No, not the ones smoking pot, the ones who are killing it in their ventures. One of the great things about being an entrepreneur is that gradually most of the people you surround yourself with are also entrepreneurs. Each entrepreneur is on a different roller coaster. Find the ones who are on their highs when you are in a low, and talk to them. Ask them for advice, motivation, whatever – just talk to them. Their high will rub off.
2) Hit Autopilot and Keep Moving –
If you can translate the feelings of defeat and disappear into some sort of motivation to keep moving, you will win. One of my favorite essays on entrepreneurship is Paul Graham’s, How not to die. In this essay he says that the startups who “make it” are the ones who find a way not to “die”. In other words, finding a way to keep moving forward, no matter how difficult it may seem, is what will make you succeed. If you’ve ever run or hiked long distances, you know this feeling. At first you start full of energy and feel like you can conquer the world. Then at some point, you hit a wall and really start to question how long you will last. At this point you can simply give up, or you can ignore the pain and just keep moving. You find a drone-like place that almost becomes pleasurable because you know that you are moving forward and your body is numbing to the the pain. I call this place, autopilot. If every time you hit “Entrepreneurial Armageddon”, you can switch into autopilot and just keep moving forward, you will be better off than most. The people who succeed are the one’s who don’t give up.
If you are on an entrepreneurial high right now, congratulations. This is why we do what we do. If you are in a low right now, read the two steps above and keep moving. Don’t worry, you’ll get out of it. If you don’t know what I am talking about yet, welcome to entrepreneurship. It’s a hell of a ride!
Photo credit: Shandi-lee