As a first time founder, I find myself reading far more than ever before, in search of inspiration, trying to find the edge for our product, and trying to push myself outside of the confines of my mental state at the moment. And, while there are many derivative thoughts floating around, I found these pieces from 2013 to be inspiring and original. Enjoy!
The Uncertainty Of Success
I found this story about Ang Lee to be truly inspiring. I have thought about it many times this year as I struggled through the psychological turmoil and financial instability that is the reality of a startup founder. I could not have made it this far without the love and support of Jen, my wife.
One of the best pieces of advice I received this year was from Todd Wyder, an old friend, colleague, and serial entrepreneur. He said that he always says, “we did it,” when he celebrates successes of his business with Tina, his wife of many years. I try to do the same, even in small celebratory moments because it is true – without a “we” there would not be an “it.”
Pick something personally meaningful, something that you actually love to do. When external rewards and validation are nonexistent; when you suffer through bouts of jealousy, wondering “How come so-and-so got signed/is successful/got a deal/etc?”; when every new development seems like a kick in the stomach, the love of what you are doing gives you something to hang onto.
What Do Happy People Do Differently?
Psychology Today rounded up data on what sustained happiness looks like in this article. This article prompted Jen to suggest that we start to regularly celebrate our successes…and this small act alone has profoundly changed my happiness.
Each time we sit down at dinner, we ask each other what was your success today, and then we actively congratulate the other person. It sounds a little silly, but try it for yourself and see how you feel afterward. We introduced the idea at Thanksgiving dinner with Jen’s family and the result was a conversation far deeper than anything I had experienced before.
It is a household tradition that we plan to continue.
Truly happy people seem to have an intuitive grasp of the fact that sustained happiness is not just about doing things that you like. It also requires growth and adventuring beyond the boundaries of your comfort zone. Happy people, are, simply put, curious.
Curiosity, it seems, is largely about exploration—often at the price of momentary happiness. Curious people generally accept the notion that while being uncomfortable and vulnerable is not an easy path, it is the most direct route to becoming stronger and wiser. The happiest people are the ones who are present when things go right for others—and whose own wins are regularly celebrated by their friends as well.
(Actual) Brain Candy
This year, I embarked on a significant change in my exercise and dietary habits. I have always maintained a decent level of fitness, but I realized this year that I truly needed meaningful breaks in the form of exercise to be a better entrepreneur and a better partner to my wife.
It started as an effort to get more out of my day. After starting my own company, I realized that the limiting factor in my business would be how much quality time I could devote.
I took small steps. I added a pull up bar to my office door frame and make myself do several pull ups each time I walk in the door. I try to bike everywhere. I build in walks with my dog into my schedule. I jump rope in the backyard for 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes at night. I use a subscription to YogaGlo with 10 – 90 minute yoga videos as a break in the day.
I also took bigger steps like finishing the 1 mile swim plan and conquering my fear of swimming (and my laziness in the morning). I started taking longer bike rides on the weekends to clear my head and take in the beauty of the Bay Area.
I read this quote from Paul Graham in this post by Sean Bannon, and have taken to heart that exercise will make be a better entrepreneur.
If you’re ever unsure if you should be doing what you’re doing during YC, ask yourself this question: ‘Am I building our product? Am I talking to users? Am I exercising?’. if you’re not doing one of these things, you’re doing the wrong thing.
I also took steps to overhaul my diet. I started reading about the effects that gluten has on your brain in the book Grain Brain and have moved to a diet that I would describe as 80% Paleo. I eat mostly Paleo in my home, and splurge when I go out. I have also tried to raise the fat level in my diet to ~50%.
At first, I took small steps. I stopped eating candy except for dark chocolate. I subscribed to a produce CSA and fish CSA. I now get ~50% of my food from these sources. I like the CSAs more than going to a Farmer’s market because it is automated and shows up on my doorstep once a week. I also started to make a conscious decision about what foods I want to eat locally and organically.
I also started a morning routine to drink Bulletproof Coffee and eat things like Grain-free Porridge. My mornings have become my sacred time and I have a ton of energy that I can pour into my business.
Back In The (Coding) Saddle Again
I started programming again in 2013. I hadn’t written a line of code in 5 years and a lot has changed in that time. I have a background in computer science and HCI, so it wasn’t like I was starting from scratch. That said, pretty much everything from the languages to the deployment process to the freely-available learning resources have changed in that time. Retraining my brain to code continues to be the most frustrating and invigorating part of every single day.
I started coding again because I was drawn to the idea that I could build something beautiful that changed people’s lives. I wanted to make something that mattered, and I didn’t feel like I could do this just by outsourcing my idea to a developer. I also knew that starting to code again would make me a much better product manager and marketer.
The idea for YadaZing wasn’t on my radar at the beginning of 2013. It has been a roller coaster so far, but I wouldn’t trade my experience this year for anything. I have no idea where I will land in 2014 but I am excited about what I will learn.
I read this article from Vinicius Vacanti and it put my effort into perspective.
I wasn’t ready to become a Google engineer but I could build any prototype we wanted. A few years later, we launched Yipit and we’re now a 25-person, venture-backed startup on the verge of profitability. It changed my life.
I also read this long-form “essay” from Frank Chimero that changed the way I thought about the interface. If you haven’t read it yet, it is worth a half hour of your time.
Flux is the capacity for change.
Chris Dixon’s article left an impression on me in September. Chris is a venture capitalist at Andreessen-Horowitz and former co-founder at Hunch. This is something that I observe every time I ride the train and when I am waiting in line, but Chris gives a formula for looking for opportunities in the world that more closely aligns with the consumption patterns of the modern digital age.
The successful products took big meals and converted them to snacks. The Internet likes snacks – simple, focused products that capture an atomic behavior and become compound only by linking in and out to other services. This has become even more so with the shift to mobile. People check their phones frequently, in short bursts, looking for nuggets of information.
On Marriage And Lou Reed
I would be remiss if I did not mention the incredible socio-political advancements in 2013. 38% of Americans now live in states where same-sex marriage is legal. The institution is ubiquitous for a reason. In a few years, I think we will be able to classify “same sex marriage” as “just marriage.”
Jen and I were blessed with the timing of the Prop 8 and DOMA. We are grateful for the support that our family and friends provided on August 17, 2013. Jen walked down the aisle to Lou Reed’s “A Perfect Day,” and our day was truly a perfect day. I thought Laurie Anderson’s poignant obituary for her husband, Lou Reed, to be a fitting way to end this post.
Lou was a prince and a fighter and I know his songs of the pain and beauty in the world will fill many people with the incredible joy he felt for life. Long live the beauty that comes down and through and onto all of us.