October 17th, 2021
Yesterday I lost a tennis match for the first time in a while.

It made me think again about what Harry Dry once asked me about tennis: “do you love to lose?”

I think about that often... I don’t love to lose, but I do believe that losing leads to more progress than winning - especially if you want to get better, faster.

Novak Djokovic’s all-time record is 978 wins, 198 losses. That means he still loses around 2 of every 12 matches.

Denis Kudla’s (the #95 tennis player in the world) all-time record is 61 wins, 107 losses. That means he loses almost 2 of every 3 matches.

But Denis Kudla has still won over $3.5M in his career purely from tennis matches.

The Pusher

Yesterday, I lost to a pusher

In tennis, a pusher (also called a grinder) is an opponent who always hits the ball back in the court, but without any power and speed.

A pusher hopes for a long match. They can get to every ball. And they get most balls back. They grind and wait patiently for you to make the mistake.

After I lost to the pusher, I searched YouTube for strategies on how to beat pushers. This comment made me stop and think:

Pushers are like the gatekeepers to becoming a strong player. Once you’re good and have a complete game they are easy to beat. But as you are learning they are extremely tough.

I love this way of looking at it. Pushers are actually the definition of mediocrity. Their strategy works and they can win matches, but they will never reach the next level.

To Get Better, You Have To Get Worse

Pushers are the type of people that believe success comes purely from hard work and a “grind” mentality.

They’re not willing to take a step back and focus on fundamentals. They’re not willing to fix the holes in their game. They’re not willing to fix their backhand.

I think tennis is like a lot of things in life. 

To get better at something, you have to get worse at it, first. Whatever you're trying to learn or improve - you have be OK with sucking at it for a temporary period of time.

Most people are too scared of that idea and they won't even get started

The Mediocre Backhand

For example, if you have a mediocre backhand. 

The pusher won’t fix his mediocre backhand. He’ll cover it up, hide it, and protect it with hacky tactics. The pusher avoids his weaknesses.

The balanced player will fix it, and embrace it. He’ll get lessons, watch videos, hit backhands for hours, and will be OK with losing 10+ matches while developing his new backhand. 

The balanced player embraces his weaknesses. He loves losing. 

And in the end, he wins.
October 13th, 2021
I think people take things way too literally, especially on the Internet. 

"When a wise man points at the moon, the imbecile examines the finger." - Confucious
October 12th, 2021
Today, I’m going on a podcast interview with a podcast that interviews media company founders.

To be honest, I don’t think I do that well on podcasts. I get nervous, and I worry that my story is not that interesting.

Part of that is because I don’t do a great job preparing. So I’m writing this as preparation, and something I will send to Simon before we start the interview :)

This is mainly rambling, but it’s helpful for me as the days that I started Starter Story seem like forever ago…

Building a great business is the product of following the money and pivoting

What is funny about Starter Story is that it was not the business I intended on building. I guess that is kind of embarrassing because you could imply that I’ve built a business I don’t like.

But I think that is business. There are a couple key lessons here that I think you can only learn by going through the process:

I think this is true for most if not all businesses. The problem is that we only see the final product in other businesses. We see Airbnb and are in awe of the thing they built. But we don’t see the years of toiling, changing business models, etc.

I read a book a while back that talked about this. There was a small side character on Seinfeld. The character was a bit of a joke, but was a meme hit with fans.

Most actors would hate this - to be known as one character for the rest of their life - but this actor embraced it, and used his 15 mins of fame for further endorsements and made millions off this character.

In other words, they gave him an inch and he took a mile. Most actors would have too much ego here. But this actor ran with it. And he had a very successful career after that, even in other roles!

This is something I’ve learned as a founder. Follow the money, even if it hurts your ego. Because the money is usually right. The money is actually what the customer wants, and what your product business should be. Great entrepreneurs follow the money.

So this is what I think about when I look back at the business I’ve built. It’s not necessarily what I envisioned 4 years ago, but it’s the result of a series of changes and decisions that followed the money.

But of course there is a balance. As founders, we have a vision too. Sometimes that vision does not involve following the money. And you can’t always follow the money. There is a balance.

Usually founders have selfish motives

Anyways, what I think is interesting is that Starter Story started as a business I wanted to build, not as something that was really “needed” in this world.

That is not something that I love to admit, but it’s true. I also think this is the case for many founders, especially on their first startups.

They build things because they want to build things. Or they hated their boss(es). Or they build something because it sounds cool. Or they build something to impress others (status, family, women, etc)., 

But often, when they retell their story, they revise history and make it seem like there was a big hole in the market, or that they built this product because of some selfless urge to help people.

But that is mostly a lie. Because there really are no “new” businesses. Even when Airbnb started, there were other options. Vrbo started in 1995.

But Airbnb wanted to build it differently, or their way. And I think that is similar to how I felt with Starter Story. There were other sites that interviewed founders, but I wanted to do it differently. I wanted our interviews to be way more in depth. I wanted to focus on the specifics. I wanted it to be a publication that “real” founders would read.

I also started it because I wanted to build something. And put something “real” into the world. That was exciting enough for me to put all my passion behind it.

And the minimal traction I had was enough to keep me motivated. I remember having 25 people on my email list. That was exciting. I remember having 1,000 people visit the site in one month. To me, that was so cool.

Everything kind of built off of that. I realized I was helping people. I got emails from people telling me that I inspired them to start a business, even successful ones.

So I just kept going.

Admittedly, my goal back then was to just stop working for “the man”. I was building a business on nights and weekends and enjoying it. And in the back of my mind, I had an inkling that this business could help me quit my full time job.

At the time, I was in no position to do that. I was in a decent amount of credit card debt and student loan debt. I didn’t have more than a few thousand dollars to my name.

Sidenote: I think that things have changed a lot now. Seems like money is everywhere and people feel like they can quit their jobs and be fine. Back then, people weren’t starting side hustles and YouTube channels like they are now. Back then, making money online was quite unheard of in mainstream circles.

But, like I said before, I created Starter Story with the hopes that it would help me find the “right” business idea, ideally a SaaS business that I could start. I was a software engineer, so I felt that building software was my advantage.

Once I got Starter Story off the ground, I actually started dabbling in new businesses. But, to make a long story short, I always came back to Starter Story, as it was the bread winner.

Consistency

Looking back, what made Starter Story work was actually my own consistency. I always showed up. There were always emails to answer, interviews to publish, and newsletters to send out.

And I never wanted to let anyone down. I didn’t want to let down my sponsors, who were paying a fixed amount per month. I wanted to make sure they got the eyeballs and clicks they paid for.

I didn’t want to let down the founders we interviewed. They spent time answering our questions and I wanted them to get something out of it.

And I didn’t want to let down the readers. I always wanted the site to feel like it had new content.

So, maybe Starter Story’s success is partly due to my own need to be liked. Or my fear of letting people down. It’s funny when I angle it that way.

But what I love about this is: this is the story of most media companies (and most companies in general). A company is built over years, and there is usually not some breakthrough moment like we all dream of.

Just showing up every day, and showing up 100% (not splitting your time across multiple companies)

90/10

It took me over 2 years to go full time into Starter Story, and it’s not because it wasn’t making enough money. Starter Story was making $5-6K/month and I had already quit my full time job.

I wasn’t full-time on Starter Story because I was already building a new business, and I was putting in 80% of my time into that new business… Even got a YC interview.

But my hubris got the best of me. I thought I could build another business easily off the backs of my Starter Story success. I thought I had some magical execution formula that I could parlay into a SaaS business. After a year of work, I only got that business to ~$1k/month.

It all came to a head after that, early last year, when I finally realized:

For my SaaS business, I was putting in 90% of my time and making 10% of my total revenue. For Starter Story, I was putting in 10% of my time, and making 90% of the revenue.

That is the exact opposite of following the money, as referenced above. And this when I learned that lesson!

And that’s when I realized I needed to go full time on Starter Story. Because I actually had more competitive advantages as a founder with Starter Story than I did for the SaaS business.

In the first month of going full time, I think we almost doubled revenue. Just the increased focus was enough. And looking at the 90/10 formula that makes sense. A simple shift in focus can make a huge difference.
August 18th, 2021
We’re already more than halfway through August, apologies for my lateness!

July 2021 was a strong, promising month. We did $45.2K in revenue, a 2.74% increase over last month and our 2nd best month ever!

Unfortunately, traffic was down around 10% since last month, but, again, putting things in perspective, traffic is up 570% compared to July 2020!

Our focus on email continues to pay off, and will be an anchor for the business. The newsletter just crossed 120K subscribers, and we’ve generated $9,028 strictly from our newsletter and automated email flows over the last 30 days.

We have 19 people working on Starter Story right now! Most are “part time”, but that is by design. We’re building a distributed media team - people from all around the world, who work on different aspects of the business. Writers, editors, programmers, analysts, and more. We assign them work, and they get it done, on their own time.

And we’re building software that can manage this and scale. As we grow, this will become 30, 40, 50 and then 100 people, all working together to create and improve our content that helps entrepreneurs and founders across the lifecycle of starting and running a business.

For example, the team is in the process of deploying our “best coworking spaces” content across 60+ cities. This content, specifically, is still in the experiment phase - our software enables this - to test out and deploy this content quickly and with low expense. Low risk, high reward!

We’re doing the same thing with our ”best VC firms” content, our instagram bios content, our new start a business checklists, and tons more experiments.

Our goal is to scale this process of creating, deploying, and improving content. How can we do it faster, leaner? How can we enable our team to do it on their own (and without much oversight from us)? 

My background is in software, and I always thought I would build a SaaS business… But over the last year, I’ve slowly come to the realization that I’m building a digital media company. The more I realize this, the more excited I get about the future of Starter Story.

I’ve been reading and listening to a lot more stuff about how others have built media companies. If you know of any good books, podcasts, etc on this, please send them my way!

We are also looking for people to join us in all aspects of the business. I explained above how we work, so if that sounds interesting to you, and you’d like to contribute something to Starter Story, let me know!

Have a great month, and thanks for reading!
July 15th, 2021
Build something real, something that stands on its own.
July 12th, 2021
Important not to forget about the main goal: 5M visitors/month by the end of the year.

Our other goal is $100k/month by end of the year, but we’d easily hit that with this kind of traffic.

So what’s the only thing in our control? The content and product that we produce. That’s it. That’s where 99% of my focus needs to be.

What is going to get us there? Aggressively scaling our content operation with laser focus.  Doing more than the others. 

That’s it! 

Everything else follows that. Mailing list, subscribers, and ad dollars. They all follow content expansion and growth.

Need to focus on working on the right projects and not working on the wrong projects.

We can’t do everything great. But we can do one thing great and the rest OK. Because the rest can be optimized later.
July 12th, 2021
In June, we officially crossed $500K ARR (yearly run rate)!

June 2021:

  • Revenue: $43.9K (+7% MoM)
  • Uniques (GA): 749K (+0% MoM)
  • Newsletter: 108K Total (+10K) (-40% MoM)

Apologies for the short update, but June was more or less the same as May... 

Last month, this month, and for the rest of the year we are working hard and staying focused on our goal to reach 5 million visitors per month.

This goal is very ambitious (we are at ~1M/month right now) but we are still gunning for it!

We’re spending most of our time thinking and executing on projects that will reach more entrepreneurs around the world.

From finding the right business idea to finding a manufacturer to growing your business to selling your business, we’re always thinking of new tools that can help entrepreneurs across the entrepreneurial “stack”, or across the entire lifecycle of starting a business.

In other words, when you start a business, you have a million questions. Our goal is to answer those questions.

And as a business, we’re thinking every day about how we can do this at scale. Better, faster, cheaper, and of higher quality.

This is what sets us apart from other media companies and blogs. Our never-ending improvements, new inventions, and engineering mindset will strengthen our business over time, and make us more profitable and sustainable.

And more importantly, it will lead to helping more people around the world start and grow their own businesses.

We’ll keep pushing forward on our 5M goal by the end of the year!

Thanks for following along :)
June 14th, 2021
Hey everyone,

We made great progress at Starter Story last month (May 2021). 

Today we crossed a big milestone: 100K email subscribers! That feels like a big achievement and I believe we have a clear path to 1M subscribers!

Our email list is 100% organic - we’ve never paid for subscribers (maybe we’ll do that one day). But right now, we’ll focus on growing our web audience and the email list will grow with it.

We did $41K in revenue on an accrual basis. We’re continuing to diversify our income streams, and we’re putting most of our profits back into growth and hiring (which I’ll talk about in a sec).

Traffic hit another all time high. SimilarWeb pegs us at 1.15M visits to starterstory.com in May 2021. Google Analytics tallied ~750K uniques. Our other analytics tools show ~1M visitors and ~1.4M pageviews.

Key Metrics for May 2021

  • Revenue: $41.1K (+31% MoM)
  • Uniques (GA): 749K (+23% MoM)
  • Newsletter: 98K Total (+17K) (+45% MoM)

Here are a few of the cool new things we are focused and working on:

Scaling Content Team

We are building lots of software and processes around hiring, training, and deploying our content team to create new content, improve existing content, improve our databases, and more.

In other words, we’re planning and creating content with a software-first approach. All content-related tasks are planned and “deployed” inside of our backend.

Our content team is already 10+ people, and this system allows us to eventually scale to 100+. We have a lot more work to do to get there, but it is exciting.

For example, here is a task in our backend to update some data and create a new article:


And here’s an example email from our content system, assigning our team some tasks for the day:


We’re “open sourcing” our content

Alongside our scalable system I mentioned above, we’ve built the beginnings of a Wikipedia-style platform.

We are currently testing a small portion of our content to be 100% editable by the public. For example, our starter profiles for Ankur Nagpal and Ryan Hoover are editable by you, right now!

Why do this? I started Starter Story because most of the content about entrepreneurship on the internet was terrible. This is because it’s not actually written by founders. And this remains to be the case today.

What if this content was written by actual founders? Why isn’t there an encyclopedia like Wikipedia for starting a business? We are building this.

In the long run, this will also allow us to scale more than we ever could with purely internal team working on content. Eventually our content team will be all the millions of founders out there in the world. If that becomes true, we’ll be the biggest business media property on the internet.

Email Optin Optimizations

We saw impressive growth in our email list, mainly because we’ve been testing more targeted opt-ins. 

For example, when you’re on a piece of content about starting a hair product line, we show some very targeted messaging for the reader:


Simple things like these can 3-5x optin rate for the page, and we are spending a lot of time testing these opt-ins. 

Overall, our optin rate to our email list was 2.28% for May 2021, a 17% increase from last month’s 1.94%. Our goal is to get this number to 5% over the next couple months. Aggressive but doable!

Goals For June

  1. Goal #1: 22 pieces of non-interview quality content published per day, trailing 30 days by June 30, 2021.
  2. Goal #2: 5% Email Opt In Rate and $0.10 Revenue Per Recipient (RPR) by June 30, 2021.
  3. Goal #3: 80+ Lighthouse Score On All Pages Mobile & Desktop + All “Good” Core Vitals by June 30th, 2021.
  4. Goal #4: Launch new “database” to readers.

Thanks for reading and see you next month!
May 19th, 2021
Americans and the West are not ready for the tidal wave of globalized talent that will make up the companies of tomorrow.

I'm hiring people from around the world who do better work, with a better attitude, in half the time, and half the cost.
30K
May 19th, 2021
Yesterday we hit 30K in one day for the first time!!

.
May 14th, 2021
I can cap and say that I never scratched my jealousy's itch
But thank God I conquered that 'cause if not I'd never be rich
Envy, keep your pockets empty, so just focus on you
If you broke and clownin' a millionaire, the joke is on you

- J Cole
May 10th, 2021
April 2021 was a great month. We had our best month ever in traffic, email subscribers, and we accrued $31K in revenue!

I’m excited and optimistic about the future of this company! Specifically, it becomes more clear each day just how much opportunity there is here and how it can actually be achieved in a scalable business model. 

It feels like the only thing stopping us is time!



Key Metrics for April 2021

  • Revenue: $31,272 (+43% MoM)
  • Uniques (GA): 607K (+10% last 30 days)
  • Newsletter: 81.3K Total (+11.8K) (+18% MoM)


Traffic

Traffic is growing, but slower than I’d like. 10% growth is still good, though. 

If we keep growing at 10%, we’d hit 1.7M visitors/month by the end of the year. But that is not enough... To reach our EOY goal of 5M/month, we’ll need to grow at ~25% per month!

We are getting closer to 1M search impressions per day

So, that’s got us thinking about growth, how can we grow and scale?

The Media Company Of The Future

So here is my idea, my “big bet”, on how we will get to 5M monthly uniques: we’ll keep building the media company of the future...

What does the media company of the future look like? Instead of a clunky content team of employees, we’re building a system / “marketplace” for experimenting, producing, and iterating on content. We’re building a technology-first, cost-effective content machine!

For example, let’s say we have a piece of content that works like “best coworking spaces in X city”. This system enables us to scale that piece of content to the top 500 cities in the world. That’s 500 pieces of high ranking content and quality traffic, as long as we can 

(1) confirm the unit economics work for that content (it’s profitable), and 
(2) understand what makes it rank highly and iterate there.

The killer feature is that we’re building a system that allows us to do this extremely fast, by deploying dozens of freelancers to do the work inside of Starter Story, with this platform that we’re building.

This is a big bet but I don’t think there is a downside. I believe this will work because our unit economics already work at Starter Story. We can produce content at such a low cost, and this system will only make it cheaper!!

And this is still early days, one day it’ll be mature enough to do more than just written content, but even YouTube content, news-type content, courses, or whatever media and content we want to produce.

Here’s a screenshot from the new system our freelancers are working in.


Revenue

Revenue was $31K, a very solid month. 

Most importantly, we are continuing to diversify our income streams. We’re maintaining a healthy balance between subscriptions, sponsorships, advertising, and affiliate revenue. 

It’s nice to see a healthy split across all of our revenue streams. Think of us like a tiny version of the New York Times.

If this keeps up, we won’t have to go chasing down big sales, investments, or deals. We are certainly under monetized, but I’d rather stay healthy as a business and focus on content (our most important asset) rather than chasing down something that is not core to our business.

Content As “Products”

One reason our revenue saw a spike this month was the launch of our “Growth Database”.

We need to be launching more things like this: packaging up our content into info products that signal value to readers. Make it feel like “less than a blog post” and “more like a database”.

These products give us an opportunity to increase the total value of our membership, and also give us a remarketing opportunity for longtime readers.

Newsletter

We’re bringing on David Bustos to a more full time role to run our newsletter. Next to content, email is the biggest part of our business, and we need a full time mind on it.

At the time of this writing, we have over 82K subscribers and we are getting closer to a cool milestone: adding 1,000 new subscribers per day! We might hit 100K by the next time I send this!

I read this book about email marketing and I highly recommend it. It is written by an entrepreneur who runs a $30M/year media company similar to Starter Story.

Next Month

Next month, we’ll be heads down on the following goals:

Goal #1: 22 pieces of non-interview quality content published per day, trailing 30 days by June 30, 2021.

Content goal, this goal is based around our new tasking system that we’re building. It’s an aggressive goal, but will push us to step out of our comfort zone and build the right tools and hire more freelancers to help!

Goal #2: 5% Email Opt In Rate and $0.10 Revenue Per Recipient (RPR) by June 30, 2021.

Email goal, we have a lot of opportunity and low hanging fruit to convert more website visitors to our email list, and then convert more of those on our email list to our paid membership.

Goal #3: 80+ Lighthouse Score On All Pages Mobile & Desktop + All “Good” Core Vitals by June 30th, 2021.

Our website could be a lot faster, and apparently Google will favor super fast websites more, soon! We need to put some work in here!
May 4th, 2021
For all the WSB-types out there:

Hedge your bets against crypto, stocks, investments, etc by building a cash generating business around it.

If the crypto fails, you built a successful business.

If the business fails, you made a great investment.
April 28th, 2021
re: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/27/business/basecamp-politics-ban.html

Basecamp can't be canceled, they have no investors! 

They have a solid, profitable business so even a mass exodus of employees really wouldn't hurt them.

Customers could leave, but I believe the controversy is too nuanced.

They'll probably gain more customers, and definitely gain more applications to work there because of all this attention they are getting.
April 27th, 2021
If your main goal in life is to “build wealth”, you’ve got it all backwards.

“Wealth” is a byproduct of our passions and doing honest, hard work over time.

For some people, that’s starting a company. For others, it’s real estate. For others, it’s frugality and saving. There are hundreds of paths to wealth.

Wealth itself should never be the goal, the path should be the goal!

If I gave you two options:

1. You can become wealthy doing something you don’t love
2. You can become wealthy doing something you really love

You would of course pick #2. 

Why would you ever pick #1?
April 22nd, 2021
Went on Twitter. Saw some guy I distantly know who got into YC. Who never launched anything before. With a generic ass startup. The same batch that I was rejected (which was also my 3rd YC rejection).

My whole story is about rejection and the rest of my life will, too. And it's usually because people don't think I'm smart enough. Or because I don't have an Ivy League persona.

These rejections always sting in the short term but months later I'm thankful for them. And stronger.
April 15th, 2021
Here are the books I read during my two month Twitter hiatus:

  • The Algebra Of Happiness Scott Galloway
  • Open by Andre Agassi
  • Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
  • A World Without Email Cal Newport
  • Grinding It Out Ray Kroc
  • Business Brilliant by Lewis Schiff
  • Sam Walton Made In America
  • Invent & Wander by Jeff Bezos (my favorite of the bunch)

You can read a lot when you gtfo off Twitter lol
April 14th, 2021
I'd love to one day have an exit and sell my company, but I also don't care.

I don't have any "end goal" with entrepreneurship. This is something that I came to terms with last year, and ever since, it's been freeing.

Entrepreneurship is more of a way of life, and I hope to be hacking and starting companies until I'm 80 years old.

If I sold my company today, I'd just go start a new one. And it would probably be pretty much the same company.

That's why I love startups. Because there is always a new challenge, or something new to try. 

I can do it for every minute for the rest of my life and I still wouldn't cover it all. I'll never get bored.
April 13th, 2021
If you do Rails, check out this ebook.

I'm working on getting Starter Story down to 100ms server response time. Working on performance stuff is fun and rewarding. Starter Story is so much faster now.

My main takeaway is cache, cache, cache, cache, and cache again. Cache everything.

There is really no downside to caching, other than the risk of showing something outdated if you don't cache in the right way.

My other takeaway is that it's usually something really stupid that makes your app run slow. For me, I finally found it: one line of code that was taking 300ms on every server response. It was so dumb and it was causing nightmare performance issues...

I feel so much more confident on how to get a Rails app to respond in <100ms.

Now I'll start learning more about the frontend and how to serve up JS and CSS faster... That's something I can learn a lot about - I'm basically a n00b on that stuff and it's always scared me.

--

It's kind of crazy just how much you can learn as long as you're motivated. Back when I was a software engineer with a six-figure salary, I knew diddly squat about caching and server performance. I'm such a stronger engineer than I was back then.

It's at least comforting to know I can always be a decent SWE if I'm somehow banned from entrepreneurship.

It also brings me joy to know I could make a lot of money writing code for 2 hours a day for someone else with no stress, yet I choose not to because that would be the easy way out on life.
April 13th, 2021
It’s time to come back. I feel refreshed and focused. 

Mainly, I feel more independent. Independent from everyone’s musings. Independent from everyone’s ideas and opinions in Twitter feeds, blogs, and messages.

That’s one of my goals this year. To be more independent and to be me. To do things in my own unique way.

Going into hiatus really helped with that: I feel more focused, less concerned with others, and more confident in the path that I’m on.

I’m not tempted to start new projects. I’m focused on building this company to be something big. Hiring. Operations. Invention. Process. Etc.

Independent!

I can’t be in my “hole” forever. As much as I hate it sometimes, the “community” was and is very beneficial to my success. I should be writing every day. And sharing my learnings.

I have to share with others. And be an inspiration to people that are starting similar websites and apps and startups.

So I’m back to writing every day. 

And maybe even some Twitter. My rule is that Twitter must stay blocked on my computer unless I’m tweeting. No reading or checking notifications.