It blows my mind how endless the possibilities there are building your own business. It is fulfilling and fun and scary. I'm grateful I get to do this every day. Right now I sit here on my couch building. Building cool shit that makes money. Unbelievable that I do this for a living. That is all.
Disruption happens a lot differently (and more slowly) than we think.
For example, think about disruption in the newspaper industry by the internet:
Newspapers didn’t immediately go online once the internet was created. Rather, blogs and websites started cropping up, and slowly people started getting their news from the internet.
This adoption took years. Once the shift already happened, the newspapers finally went online. But it was too late. Only a complete shift in business model would allow them to survive.
The next big industries to get disrupted are healthcare and education.
And I think the same thing will happen in healthcare.
Doctors and hospitals aren’t going to adopt new technologies. They have no incentive to. Their system works just fine right now.
But, just like the newspaper industry, people will find new, better, and more convenient ways of getting health care.
For example, the Apple watch can track many of your vitals. And Levels can analyze your blood. You can get prescriptions online. You can see doctors online. WebMD. The list goes on.
Slowly, these methods will become more popular than going to the doctor / hospital. Health care costs will go down for the average person.
The profits will be sucked out of the healthcare industry. Only then will the hospitals and administrators realize they need to adopt these new technologies to survive as a business.
But it will be too late, just like the newspapers. With their business model (massive fixed costs), they won’t be able to make it work.
The same will happen in education. We won’t replace traditional college. But less people will go every year. Thousands of apps, websites, and platforms will replace traditional education (Starter Story being one of them).
Colleges will try to implement these new technologies, but it will be too late.
That project took forever, but now we're migrating the database to work for other "objects", the first one being our tools database. It uses the same code and logic.
Here is the before and after:
You can now search, filter, and sort the tools, and see all 2,500+ tools, and ton of more metadata for each tool. Let me know what you think! (and if anything can be improved in terms of functionality, design, etc)
Here it is in all its glory. Really proud of this!
I spent the last week in Mexico. A few days at a tennis camp during the week, and then a weekend bachelor party with old college friends.
Traveling is finally, finally a thing again. And it felt really nice.
In 2021 I almost never traveled, and it definitely affected my mental health.
Although flying on planes and going through airports are still such a nuisance, it is so very worth it to get out there and see the world.
I forgot how travel opens up your perspective. Being in Mexico City reminded me just how small my own world is.
And seeing friends is worth all the money you have to spend. Bachelor parties and weddings and other related events are so expensive, and sometimes that bothers me. But they are worth the money. Getting together with friends is priceless.
I want to do that a lot more this year. Take more weekend trips. Take advantage of this time where nobody is worried about Covid and we can go anywhere.
Since I started playing tennis, I’ve been documenting every time I’ve played, practiced, or just hit around for fun.
I track lots of things, such as type of play, opponent, court type, duration, score, and some notes.
(I didn’t actually start doing this until 1 year in, so I had to make up some of the data based on my old playing habits)
I put this all in my “Life” spreadsheet where I also track personal finances, expenses, investments, my business, and other things. I used to have a few different spreadsheets for this, but recently I merged them all into one.
The first tab of my “Life” spreadsheet is my high level “Home” dashboard where I can see bigger picture stuff, like net worth, last 30 months expenses, etc.
I just use some formulas on the raw data and can see some pretty cool stuff.
For example, how many hours I’ve spent playing in the last 30 days, or my official win-loss record.
I’ve dedicated 715 hours to playing tennis over the last couple years. Sometimes, I wish I could get better, faster. But then I realize that 700 hours is really not that much. Imagine how good I’ll be at 10,000 hours!
As a first time founder I focused way too much on implementation. What coding language to use, what marketing strategy, what the business model will be.
Over-systemizing, over-optimizing, and overthinking.
What I’ve learned over the years:
The most valuable thing to focus on is one question: am I helping people?
Am I adding genuine value to at least one person’s life? Success scales when I do more of that.
I talk to aspiring founders and they ask me questions like “should I do e-commerce or should I make an app?”. I think that’s the wrong way to think about building a business. Because that’s doing it for you, not for others.
I believe we would be more successful (more quickly) if we just focused on helping people.
Why? Because the job of a business is to serve its customers. Not to serve you. The best founders are servants to their customers.
This is something I’m only realizing years into my entrepreneurship journey. To be frank, I got into entrepreneurship for me.
Because I wanted people to use the products that I designed and created. And I wanted to quit my 9 to 5. I didn't want to work for someone else anymore.
Those were perfectly normal motivations to start a business, and they actually make sense for why so many people make the leap.
But now, I'm getting close to Year 5 of building businesses full time, and I’m sensing a shift.
Those things don’t motivate me much anymore. I get the most joy out of helping people. I think this will lead to far more growth, too. Will keep you updated.
Over the past year, we’ve been building out our task management system for Starter Story.
Essentially, it’s Trello inside of our actual CMS.
Our team is global, in different time zones, and many of our freelancers work part time. We don’t have meetings or use Slack, so this task management system is our way of working async
How it works
We use the comments section on our blog posts to assign tasks, get work done, analyze performance, and general discussion.
Freelancers get assigned tasks, and people can reply to tasks, leave replies, tag each other, etc. Everyone also gets email notifications (which is useful for busy freelancers).
Let me show you a simple example.
When we have an idea for a new blog post, we create the empty post in the backend.
Then, this comment gets created, and assigned to one of our content writers.
Essentially, this is a task, with a due date, to get an article first draft completed.
What’s so useful is that this is in the comments of the actual article, so we can always go back and see the history of all changes or projects around that article.
This has allowed us to build systems and processes around how articles get written and reviewed (first draft, editor review, final review), which we can delegate to other freelancers.
This is how we are building a scalable asynchronous media company.
Additionally, this allows us to improve content in a structured way. If we see some content that has potential to move up in search engines, we create a task in those same comments, assigned to one of our freelancers who specializes in SEO.
Here’s a simple example:
Why we are doing this
Our goal is to build a scalable asynchronous media company.
There have been a lot of growing pains (mostly in our process itself), but we have been able to change how the thing works dynamically based on trial and error.
This is something I could see growing into 100+ freelancers, all working together. Right now we have about 15 people working inside this tool.
And, this would work across multiple sites (something we plan on doing in the future).
You could do this in Trello or other task management tools, but building this internally does give us an extra level of ownership, customization, and flexibility.
The key here is the process and systems you define that work for you, not the technology you use!
(if you thought this post was interesting, let me know, i'm curious if ppl are interested in behind the scenes stuff like this)
Building a successful subscription-based media business is extremely hard to do as a young company.
I cannot name one successful community that is less than a few years old that makes millions per year.
The successful ones are built over many years and/or have some X-factor (huge distribution channel, insane word of mouth, huge market trend).
For example, the New York Times has a huge subscription business. But it’s built on an excellent brand and decades of publishing and another solid business model of ads. They built a subscription to diversify their revenue, and they had millions of traffic and brand loyalty that got them millions of subscribers.
It’s extremely hard to build a media company and paywall everything right out of the gate and expect it to work because it worked for the New York Times. You might be able to do it with VC money, but I can’t think of many media brands that bootstrapped it.
I think this is what a lot of people get wrong, including me. At Starter Story, our membership is stagnating. It’s not really growing or dying.
I’ve realized subscriptions are not a truly scalable business model for a young media company. As a mature company, it’s a great way to capture money from your loyal users. but we (Starter Story) are not a mature company yet. We are too early in the life cycle.
So that’s why we are turning our focus back to the ad model this year.
If we can continue to grow content, traffic, and our newsletter, we can sell more ads and land more sponsors. That is actually a scalable business model, so I’ve been doubling down on that as of late.
Plus, you see the latest Netflix news? They lost 200k subscribers. Netflix is probably the most popular subscription in the world. If Netflix loses subscribers, I think every other subscription based business is going to lose subscribers over the next few months. Get ready for it.
I’ll keep you updated on this blog about how that’s going. I hope you like these kinds of updates?
I haven’t gone for a run in over a year. Tennis took over my life.
But this weekend, I ran a half marathon. I flew back home to visit family and run the race with my mom.
I wasn’t really looking forward to it as it was snowing and raining on the morning of the race, but when I got there, it all changed. I got pumped as hell.
The atmosphere, just like all road races I’ve experienced, was electric.
I missed that.
I missed being surrounded by thousands of people that all worked their ass off and trained for months leading up - all of us standing in unison at the starting line at 6AM, adrenaline pumping, and freezing our tails off - with the goal of achieving 13.1 or 26.2 miles on our feet.
But even more, I missed what running does to your mind.
Running gives you space to think. Think about your life. Your business. Your goals. Your past. Your future.
There is no other sport like that - where you go out, alone with your thoughts for hours.
It's funny, I remember discovering the Keto diet 10 years ago on a small but passionate subreddit. I tried it and lost 20 lbs, it felt like a magic diet. But all my friends thought it was super weird.
Fast forward 10 years, and it is totally mainstream! It's a good lesson to remind us that if something gets a small cult following online, there's a good chance it will take off and become huge. Just takes many years to become a reality.
(I'm not Keto, this is more of a lesson in markets and business)
Don't worry about the number of subscribers, but rather the engagement. Open rate, etc.
Learn best practices in terms of list cleaning and maintenance. Don't be afraid to remove people off your list and directly ask for readers to unsubscribe.
In terms of advertising and making money from your newsletter, it is ideal to have a newsletter that is sent more than monthly, or weekly. A newsletter with 7,000 subscribers that sends weekly will generally make the same money as a newsletter with 1,000 subscribers that sends 7 days a week.
Ask your readers to reply. This is good for open rates and deliverability. It also lets you talk to your readers and really understand what they want.
Spend some time on the design. Make it look nice, simple, and readable.
Look at the numbers aggressively. If open rates are going down, do something about it, ask for help.
Unfortunately, I learned all of these the hard way 😆
Start every day by creating something. A tweet, a comment, a blog post, a design, a few notes in a journal, some code, etc. I always feel better for the rest of the day with the feeling that I produced at least something, and not just consumed.
Last year, I started building a system for reminding myself to buy birthday gifts for my friends, family, and loved ones.
I’m not the best at keeping in touch with people (need to work on that) and since I have some extra money left over from my business, I thought that buying gifts for people would be a nice use of the money.
I also live in Florida now, and I don’t live close by to most of my best friends and family anymore.
How it works
I went to Facebook and did a spreadsheet export of all my friends, and their birthdays.
For each event, I set an email reminder 7-10 days before, and another reminder on the day of.
I use my inbox as a sort of todo list, so when this reminder comes into my inbox (10 days before their birthday), it stays there until I figure out the birthday gift. At that point, I have a few days to come up with a gift idea and get it shipped out so it arrives before their birthday.
Then, on the day of their birthday, I get another notification, so I can remember to text or call them.
It’s been a year, and I’m still figuring this part out. My goal is to get them something unique, or meaningful to our relationship.
Sometimes it's a gift based on an inside joke we have. Sometimes it's a recognition for something they've been working hard on.
Etsy is amazing for designing custom gifts. As a gift for my musician friend, I had someone on Etsy design a plaque for reaching 100,000 streams on Spotify.
Or, I’ll design something on Canva, and put it on a t-shirt or hat or a mug.
On Etsy, you can do cool things like this for $25-$50.
Some other good, easy gifts you can do:
Buying stuff on Amazon (easiest method)
Buying a great book for a friend on something they are interested in
Gift cards to their favorite local coffee shops
Find out where they are going to dinner, and call the restaurant and order a bottle of wine to be delivered to their table and surprise them.
After doing this for one year, I’ve found that the gifts can sometimes be a hit or miss, or that is at least my perception. I think that some people love getting stuff with sentimental value, but it might be trash to others.
But that's OK! I'll take a mental note of this and switch up my strategy in the following year.
Something I've been doing lately is actually just writing birthday cards by hand and shipping them via snail mail. I'll report back on this next year.
Why I’m writing about this
Giving gifts is a form of gratitude. And gratitude is something that I’m working on as a human.
As far as the cost, it’s not as bad as you might think. If the average gift is $50 and I do it for 50 people, that’s $2,500 per year. And there are ways you could still do this with far less money.
I’m lucky to be in a place where I can afford that, but more importantly I believe that this money and time invested in your friends and family is worth it.
The last thing I’ll say about this: it does take some time out of your day. Thinking about the right gift, searching for it, logistics, etc. It might sound like a hassle at first, but I actually feel great when I successfully figure out a good gift, and even better when they let me know they got their gift.
I’ve never been one to give gifts, but I’ve really enjoyed doing this over the last year, and plan to do it going forward.