October 31st, 2019
Well, it's been almost two weeks since my last post. As the year comes closer to a close I will figure out how to do this every day.

But the last two weeks, I was preparing and anticipating for a YC interview.

It's over now, and I was rejected, but I just wanted to get my initial thoughts on paper. It helps to just write it down and get it out. I want to put something together over the next few days as I get all my thoughts together, but here is how I'm feeling now:

This time, I don't feel the sting of rejection as much as last time. This time I got further in the process, too.

This time, I won't kill my startup because I was rejected. Technically, I don't need YC because I have really low costs and I can grow it organically.

Part of me applied because it's the 'cool kids'. If only I could get in and get that validation I want. I wanted to prove to YC, and my family, friends, etc that "I am legit" and I'm working on something smart.

But I know better than that. I never got into any Ivy league colleges, and I never got hired by any epic companies like Google or Facebook. I'm not smart like that. I don't hang out with Princeton elites and discuss growth strategy, politics, and modern art. Sometimes, I have fallen trap to wanting those things, and when I try to get them, and can't get them, I somehow wonder why.

I never deeply wanted them in the first place, or I wanted them on a very superficial level. And if I ever got them, I realized very quickly it's not for me, and leave.

I'm not saying YC is like that, but it's also a 'cool name' that you can impress people with. In 5 years, I want to be able to say "I built a great company" instead of "I did YC".

But, if you have YC on your LinkedIn, or in your email signature, people will take you more seriously. 

To me, that is one of the most cringiest things I've ever read about YC. 

How about being taken seriously for things you actually did? The people that I personally look up to built things from nothing, like Elon Musk, Pewdiepie, Kanye West, Joe Rogan, etc. They are often college dropouts, and worked harder than anyone else, taking years to be even recognized.

I definitely see the value in YC but I need to write this kind of stuff to remember my principles. Because it's not my life goal to get into YC, it's to build a great life.

This is just the beginning of my thoughts. I hope to write more tomorrow.

I don't think YC is bad (it's actually awesome), and the interview experience was amazing. More on that next time. 

But for now, I'm back to work on my business the day after I was rejected. That's certainly better than last time I was rejected.

October 17th, 2019
I already missed a day, and I'll be honest I completely forgot about this blog entirely 🙈!

Need a way to remind myself!

I might have also forgotten because I got invited to an interview in Mountain View with Y Combinator! Totally unexpected to get that, so that's been kind of a trip...

Tomorrow (today) I'll write something real :)

October 16th, 2019
It's 12AM in the morning right now.

I am in Lisbon on "vacation", can't sleep. Needed to code up this idea (this blog right here) as I've been kicking at the idea like every day for the past couple weeks.

Been thinking a lot about how I want to get back into writing, and documenting all this stuff I'm doing.

I have a lot of "thoughts" but too scared to post them on Twitter and too busy/lazy to write a well thought-out blog post.

I want to build a daily habit. But I want to do this more for myself, and less for social media and for people to see. I want this to be more like a daily journal. It can be a YouTube video too, or some other piece of content, doesn't matter..

Who know what will come out of this. Don't want to make any promises, but I'd like to create some goal where I have to do this daily - doesn't matter about number of words, just that I wrote something.

And if I miss a day, will have to donate $X to charity...

Anyways, will iron more stuff out as 2019 comes to a close, but at least I got this one post up! Will keep playing around and trying to post more, with a more formal idea for what this will be in the next few weeks.

September 2nd, 2019

TLDR


August 2019 is another record month, beating last month's record month in categories including revenue, traffic, content and pretty much everything else.

Although the number doesn't mean much, over 100,000 people visited Starter Story in the month of August. This is a first - I hoped that we might hit that number by the end of the year, but hit it 5 months early!

I have to attribute almost all of the success of the month to the process we've been building around the business and the team members we have brought on. This is especially true because I was traveling 3 weeks out of the month, and our team was able to hold down much of the operations without me, and ultimately ship 59 interviews/articles, which is another record!

On the flip side, my travel schedule significantly decreased my productivity and I didn't complete some of the features/initiatives I had planned. But the positive there is that it opened my eyes to even more holes in the process, more things I should outsource, and how I can improve things so that it could run without me and I can focus more on growth and the vision for the business.

Numbers


  • Visitors: 103K (32% MoM Growth)
  • Email List: (+1K subs) Total 8.4K
  • Content: +59 Interviews (75% MoM Growth)
  • Revenue: $5.8K (Klaviyo + Membership + Affiliate revenue)

August Wins


  • We published 59 pieces of content. That is a 75% increase over the previous month (34 pieces of content).
  • In line with the above, my freelancers are now fully onboarded with all publishing and email tasks. Even though we shipped a massive amount of stories, it didn't feel that way as I am enabling my team to handle so much more.
  • Our Pinterest sharing automation is starting to take off. This month our pins got 10K impressions, which beats out last month's which was basically 0. This should keep growing! https://www.pinterest.com/starterstory/ I have implemented 9 daily templates and plan to get to 20. This is 100% automation and I LOVE this kind of stuff.
  • I had a big tweet about how I automate Reddit posts for Starter Story - which really goes into the details of how it works.
  • Implemented top-level URLs for interviews (no more /stories/how-i-blah-blah), which should hopefully help with SEO -> https://www.starterstory.com/cork-maps-side-project
  • "Starter Features" are fully rolled out https://www.starterstory.com/michelle-miller - we published ~15 of these last month - as they allow us to share interviews with people that are not comfortable with sharing their monthly revenue, whom we would just lose them before.
  • In order to stay sane, I moved over most of the email stuff for Starter Story to [email protected] address. The team now works out of this email address, which will allow us to scale more and keep building the team.
  • We published a book on Amazon! This is 24 of our best interviews - I will announce this in the coming days and also offer it as an upsell on our premium membership.

August Opps for Improvement


  • I had a ton of stuff planned to implement last month, and barely got to any of it. Traveling was the main reason for this. I wasn't on vacation, but took most weekends off as I was going between SF -> LA -> SD in the span of 3 weeks. It felt like I was basically just keeping my head above water with the day to day stuff.
  • What I learned from this is that I need to build more process around the day to day so I can take some days off and still be able to focus on growth activities. I don't want to spend my Mondays and Tuesdays "catching up" on emails and transactional stuff from the weekend.

Notable content


Here are the 3 most successful interviews from last month, all hitting the front page of Hacker News (and 2 of them saying great things about Klaviyo):

Plans for next month


  • Publish 70 pieces of content
  • Ability to favorite stories and save them for later
  • Drive more traffic/impressions for Klaviyo on article/interview pages
  • 20 daily Pinterest templates (11 more to go)
  • Ability to follow users
  • Outsource editorial duties. Will find someone to "review" stories - will save me 5-10 hours per week.
  • Improve signup flow (get more data on user's businesses and incentize them to fill out their profiles)
  • Announce book on newsletter and add to website
  • Execute new "story follow up" content offering - Reach out to old stories and have them provide and update on their business
  • Add site-wide search to the homepage -> search "candle business"
  • Expose premium membership a bit more across the site
  • Add tags to stories -> "bootstrapped", "side hustle", "instagram"

I enjoy writing these and excited for the upcoming month!

Pat

August 1st, 2019
Don’t feel like writing too much this month, but here’s my update for the results of the month of July 2019.

In this post, I’m mostly talking about Starter Story updates. I’m also working on Pigeon and learning a lot about how to build an app. Currently have 12 paying users on that one. More on that soon.

TLDR 

July is another record month, the biggest in terms of traffic and email subscribers.

I've been working a lot on building process around the business and now onboarding some help to the team. This is allowing me to scale both content and features, which I'm really excited about. This is all sort of new for me, but I feel inspired to grow the business and make it bigger than just me.

Although most traffic comes from Google, I did see a big uptick in direct traffic this month and I think we are starting to feel some effects of word of mouth. I've started communicating more with users (by using Klaviyo) and they tell me often that they share the site with all their friends, which I love to hear.

High-level goals going forward is to keep increasing content output and variety, and keep moving the site to a more UGC model of AMAs, forum, Q&As, etc.

Numbers:

1. Visitors: 78K (14.2% MoM Growth)
2. Email List: (+1.1K subs) Total 7.7K
3. Content: +34 Interviews
4. Revenue: $4.1K (Klaviyo + Membership + Affiliate revenue)

July wins:

  • I've fully onboarded two freelancers to the team. One helping with all things email, publishing, etc. And the other helping outreach to more businesses for interviews. The goal is to release 60 interviews in the month of August and it will only be possible with their help, and with the help of my new side project Pigeon.
  • Launched new Starter Story "Start" page.
  • Launched new Starter Feature profile series - a new way for businesses to share their story without having to share their monthly revenue.
  • Implemented a new 5 email flow with Klaviyo (see screenshot) after signup. This has been awesome - especially the email where I ask them what they are working on - have made some great connections.
  • 100% automated Reddit posts
  • We cracked <100K Alexa ranking. Although it doesn't mean much, it does give our site more "clout" for pitching businesses and improves our name/authority in the space.
  • Started new Pinterest campaign to drive more traffic to the site. Working on a 100% automated solution using asset generation tool Placid and the Pinterest API. It's pretty cool, you can see it already in action here.

Plans for next month:

  • Publish 60 new interviews (in the month of August). This will be a record high and the new norm going forward if things keep going the way they are - also, sometime next month we will likely hit 500 interviews since inception!!
  • Ability to favorite stories and save them for later
  • Ability to follow users
  • Start new "story follow up" content offering - Reach out to old stories and have them provide and update on their business
  • Improve signup flow (get more data on user's businesses and incentize them to fill out their profiles)
  • Incentivize more engagement on the site such as commenting and posting
  • Add site-wide search to the homepage -> search "candle business"
  • Add tags to stories -> "bootstrapped", "side hustle", "instagram"
  • Finish out Pinterest automation
  • Release Kindle book of 100 Best Stories

Pat

June 16th, 2019

The story about how this piece of paper I wrote back in 2017 turned my life around. I created a YouTube video about this story as well.

First, I want to time travel back two years, in late 2017, when I was in a much different place.

I was on a six-hour flight from San Francisco to New York. It was a Sunday, and I was coming off of a long weekend trip with family and friends celebrating my sister’s 21st birthday.

That’s always a grueling flight, especially if you’re going east since you “lose” 3 hours. Couple that with the fact I had taken off a few days of work (just started a new job) and how much alcohol I drank over the weekend, I was feeling a bit guilty.

I whipped out my Kindle and opened Page 1 of Think And Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill.

Why was I reading this book? Because I wanted to fix things in my life. And while reading, I couldn’t help but face my insecurities about my financial situation and career:

  • I had over $25k in credit card debt.
  • I had over $40k in student loan debt.
  • I had just moved to NYC and was living above my means.
  • I had just started a new full-time job and I wasn’t passionate about it.

Obligatory note that I am grateful to only have these issues - I realize that they are nothing compared to the hardships that most people in the world are going through.

I wasn’t beating myself up though - I was feeling a surge of motivation to change things.

A few pages in, I put the book down, pulled out my iPhone and wrote this note:

The note I created in October 2017 on that flight 

You might be thinking “that’s is an oddly specific statement to write”.

But early in the book, Hill walks through his simple process on how to get rich (or for me, to get out of debt).
Napoleon Hill’s six-step process to get rich

He boils it all down to six steps, designed to help anyone get the financial results they desire:

1 - Fix in your mind the exact amount of money you desire. It is not sufficient merely to say “I want plenty of money.” Be definite as to the amount.

2 - Determine exactly what you intend to give in return for the money you desire. (There is no such reality as “something for nothing.”)

3 - Establish a definite date when you intend to possess the money you desire.

4 - Create a definite plan for carrying out your desire, and begin at once, whether you are ready or not, to put this plan into action.

5 - Write out a clear, concise statement of the amount of money you intend to acquire, name the time limit for its acquisition, state what you intend to give in return for the money, and describe clearly the plan through which you intend to accumulate it.

6 - Read your written statement aloud, twice daily, once just before retiring at night, and once after arising in the morning. As you read, see and feel and believe yourself already in possession of the money.
I actually wrote it down this time

After I got home from the flight, I wrote that same statement on a physical piece of paper, stuck a nail through the top and into the wall, and hung it right next to my bed.

Some of the wear and tear it went through, it got ripped off the wall a few times!

But how many times had I done stuff like this before? Made goals and didn’t stick to them? Too many to count…

This time, I made sure to follow his instructions:

1 - $10,000 CASH was the exact amount of money I desired to have. Keep in mind that I was in $65k worth of debt, so this I needed to profit $75k to get there.

2 - What would I give in return for that money? As stated, I had to (1) keep making my full-time income (2) follow a serious budget and (3) make good money with a side project.

3 - I stated the date: Jan 1, 2019. At the time I wrote the note, that was 15 months away.

4 - Was it realistic? I needed a definite plan - so I created a spreadsheet that ran all of these numbers, and it was possible (although everything had to go perfectly).

5 - Following Hill’s instruction, I actually wrote it down on a physical piece of paper.

6 - I didn’t read it aloud twice a day, but by having it hung up by my bed, I was forced to look at it every morning and night.
I put my head down and started working

I’m not going to say that I became a different person and turned things around overnight.

I was still stuck, but this piece of paper remained constant as I slowly turned things around.

But also having this piece of paper hung up in my room was actually kind of weird for me at first…

When friends or family came into my room, I hid the sheet of paper out of embarrassment.

I was self-conscious about these goals. I thought people would think I was weird for this. I think I was afraid of failure and afraid of being myself.

But over time, people eventually found it and asked about it. It really was no big deal. Although I didn’t share this goal online, sharing this with friends helped it feel more real.
I took that sheet of paper really seriously.

Keep in mind that when I made these goals, Starter Story was not even monetized. I was making $0/month.

At the time, $3,000/month seemed incomprehensible to me, but I knew it was possible after all that I’d researched and read on the internet (thank you Indie Hackers, Pieter Levels, and so many more).

To reach my goal, I was assuming an average of $3k/month over the next 15 months. So if I couldn’t reach $3k in earlier months, I would have to make up for it in later months if the site grew.

It wasn’t very realistic, but you have to set big goals, and even reaching half of that I would have been happy.

I slowly chipped away at that goal:


The red line is the 15 months I had to get to $3k/month average revenue


What else could get me closer to $10k cash? Saving more money.

I’ve never been great with money, and I won’t go into that... but I needed to change that as well.

I created a spreadsheet forecast/budget and tracked my expenses in detail. I analyzed it every two weeks, digging deep into my spending, income, and understanding my financial picture better.

My old expenses tracking sheet. The column in red was how much I was putting towards my credit card principal every two weeks. Everything I saved went right into that. On another note, you can see how expensive NYC is!

Note - in this post I won’t cover a lot of the things that happened that year. But if you’re interested in more details about the business side, read this.

To make a long story short, I just kept working towards that goal, getting small wins, paying off credit cards, and learned a lot about myself through starting my own business and changing my habits.

I wasn’t going to reach $10k


Fast forward a few months…

As the fateful day loomed closer, I realized that I wasn’t even close to reaching my $10,000 cash goal.

But I wasn’t sad about it. I had a lot to be proud of:

  • By August 2018, I had reached $1k monthly revenue.
  • By September 2018, I paid off all my credit card debt.
  • By October 2018, I quit my full-time job to put all my focus into Starter Story and the 24 Hour Startup.

All of these were massive, first-time accomplishments for me.

Although I was still far off from my $10k cash goal and still in the red, I’m certain that little piece of paper drove me much closer than if I hadn’t done it.

And then it happened (almost)

Then, in late November 2018, I got word from my newsletter sponsor that they wanted to exclusively sponsor the entire Starter Story website for the next year!

That was never in the “plans”, but one thing I learned at that point, is that I could no longer predict anything anymore.

The vision I had in 2017, at $0/month, was so different than what actually materialized (for example, I had no idea I was going to launch a startup in 24 hours).

The only thing that stayed constant was me putting in the work and trying to get closer to that goal.

Since the cash was paid upfront, it got me into “positive net worth” territory. It got me to $5,000 in cash, only $5k off from my goal!

I was so close, but at that point, I was no longer attached to reaching the $10k goal. I was surprised how I close I got, and grateful.
And then it actually happened

Sure enough, luck struck again, and this time it was even bigger.

My old coworker texted me, saying that the startup we used to work for 5 years ago had just filed for IPO. When I left the company, I purchased some stock options.

This came to me as a surprise, as it had been a long time since I left the company, and I didn’t think it was ever going to happen.

But sure enough, two weeks after that, they were already ringing the bell on the NYSE.

And that was the moment I had not only reached my audacious goal of $10k, but blew so much further past it than I could ever imagine.

I dug through my bag and found the piece of paper, and it was one of the best feelings of accomplishment of my life.

Note: The stock options/IPO is almost 100% luck, so I hope it’s clear that I’m not bragging or attributing this to my own success. However, I do think this shows the power of hard work + luck. I worked my ass off to get to $5k, and then this was really the icing on the cake.

What did I learn?

Visualize. Visualize. Visualize.

What you visualize over time will naturally become your reality.

If you visualize yourself running and finishing a marathon, you will do it. If you visualize yourself getting that promotion, you will get it.

But it also goes the other way.

If you can’t visualize your side project making money, then it won’t magically monetize itself. If you visualize a relationship or date going poorly, then it will. I am guilty of negative visualization in many ways.

State your goals, and then multiply them by 3.

If you think it’s possible to make $1k month after 1 year, then scribble out the 1 and replace with a 3, or a 5, or even a 10.

Because if I set my original goal to be $1k/month, then I would never have hit $3k. And if I set my goal at $10k, I probably would have hit that too.

If you visualize the ceiling, then you will won’t break through it.

And the other thing I learned? If you work hard, consistently, and do honest work, then unexpected and amazing things will happen - it just takes time.

--

So that’s how one little piece of paper changed my life.

The funny thing is, after I wrote the note on that flight, I picked the book back up and only read a few more pages and got bored.

It didn’t matter what the rest said - that was all I needed! Thank you Napoleon Hill :)

May 19th, 2019
So I recently just finished Rob Walling’s book, Start Small Stay Small (a great book btw!).
Although it’s a bit dated (written in 2010) there was one thing that really stuck with me, and I can’t stop thinking about it…

I’m making a lot less money than I should be.

Rob goes over some simple calculations to determine if you are underpaid - I pulled out my phone and did a rough calculation. I started feeling pretty shitty :(
I realized what I’m making is SIGNIFICANTLY less than what I should be making…


So what should my time be worth?

A good way to determine what your time is worth is your salary + benefits divided by 2000 hours.
Now, I don’t have a full-time job because I recently quit my job (more on that later) - but before I quit my job I was making $125k/year as a software engineer. Let’s add $25k of benefits to that (a conservative number).
$150,000 / 2000 hours = $75/hour
By those calcs, my time should be worth $75 per hour.

But what is my time actually worth?

Right now, I’m making around $4,500/month, or $54,000 per year.
$54,000 / 2000 hours = $27 per hour
Wait... but the 2,000 hours figure assumes a 40 hour work week, with weekends off. I actually work more than that now.
I probably work 60 hours a week (3,000 per year), so:
$54,000 / 3000 hours = $18 per hour
Eighteen fucking dollars per hour!!! You’ve gotta be kidding me.

Caveats


This $18/hour number kind of freaks me out a bit…
However, it’s not really that simple. There are a couple of things that make me feel a bit better...

My costs are lower

My living costs are much lower than they were in New York City. However, the income I have now would not sustain me in NYC.
This was a choice I made because I wanted to start my own business and knew that my revenue would be low while starting out.
So although my spend is less, I want to be able to live anywhere with my own business, including NYC (one day). Right now I can’t live there, so I don’t have true location independence.

Most of my income comes from minimal work

Most of my income comes from my website Starter Story. However, as of right now, I only work on it around 12 hours per week. (I’ve automated everything I could)
So, if I were to do a calculation on actual work:
$48,000 x 625 hours of work = $76.80 per hour.
OK that’s a little better!

Building assets for the future

Unlike a full-time job or consulting business, the work that I do today (for little to no direct compensation) may mean bigger payouts in the future.
For example, Starter Story may have a lot more traffic in one year, which would increase income with barely an increase in input.
About a year ago, I was putting in serious hours on Starter Story and making just a couple hundred bucks a month - now I put in less time with way more money.
I’m also spending ~75% of my time at the moment on a new product, which right now brings in just a small amount of money compared to the loads of work I’m putting in.
But that’s mostly because I’m just launching it and frontloading so much of time for the future. It’s also a recurring revenue product.

It’s not about the money

It’s important for me not to get too caught up in the numbers, and focus on building something great.
If I wanted to make an effective $100/hour I could go back to my old career of implementing enterprise software for Fortune 500 companies. If I never left that, I would have never learned how to code, become a software engineer, started my own business and overall I would have just been fucking miserable.
Or I could do freelance, or make a load of cash as a software engineer, but then I would be building someone else’s dream which also makes me miserable.

How I plan to change this


Although those were some good caveats, I’m still having a sinking feeling every time I think about that $18/hour number.
Going forward, I’m going to be taking a closer look at this number and how I can increase it.
My goal is to get that number higher than $75/hour.
Here’s how I plan to do it:

Start outsourcing work

Another really impactful thing I read from Rob’s book was the importance of outsourcing.
He argues that you would be crazy not to outsource anything that is cheaper than your target hourly rate. So if I’m doing a task that someone else can do for $6/hour, I am making a huge mistake, and effectively losing $69/hour.
If I can figure out how to outsource more Starter Story, I can not only save 10-15 hours per week of work, but I can scale that work to produce more content and grow at a faster rate.
I’ve tried outsourcing in the past and didn’t have a great experience… However, I’m going to give it a go another try and take a different approach. More on that to come.

Tracking my time better

I could work less which would bring up that hourly number, however, I don’t plan on working less right now.
I want to be more productive. I plan to do this by tracking my time better, using a new productivity technique called time blocking (which I’m loving) and making sure I’m working on only the most important things.
And again, using this analysis of my time to outsource more stuff.

Earn more revenue

This one is obviously the most important, but the hardest.
My goal this year has been to get to $12K monthly revenue by the end of the year, which would put me at $46 per hour at 3000 hours.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how to make more money and my plans to do that mostly reside on landing some big sponsors for Starter Story and some more B2B efforts.
More on that to come soon. Hopefully some more saved/productive/outsourced time will allow me to focus on that towards the end of the year.
Oh yeah, I could also sell a course for $699 on Starter Story and make $1M/year. But I’m not a scumbag.

May 3rd, 2019
This is a post about my productivity hacks/techniques and how I work on a daily basis.

I’m not claiming that I am an extremely productive or efficient person. This is just how I work and what I have found works for me.

I am always trying to improve this as well, so any feedback you have please let me know what you think!

Goals before hacks


In order to be productive, I need to have clear goals.

I have to ask myself…

What, specifically, is it that I want to achieve? Can I break it down into smaller projects and tasks that I can work on today?

If I can’t answer these questions, then everything will fall apart and I will barely have the willpower to work more than a 3 hour day. I can always fake it for a bit, but it won’t last long.

I witnessed this a few months ago when I lost sight of my goals. At time, I didn’t know what I wanted, although I won’t go into it.

But during this time I wasn’t very productive and didn’t have much motivation to work hard.

But after that slump, my goals became more clear, and I slowly got back on track.

If you are having trouble focusing or getting meaningful work done, it might be worth it to think about your goals - and not just for 10 minutes - spend some time each day refining what specifically it is that you want.

Always be experimenting


It’s important to keep trying new productivity techniques and softwares, adding and subtracting new things often.

I’ve found that there is no single system or technique that works best. Our lives change and evolve, and so should our ways of getting work done.

I’ve learned Pomodoro, GTD, watched countless YouTube vidoes. I’ve used simple todo lists, Post-It notes, Trello, Notion, Google Calendar, and the list goes on.

By the time you’re reading this, my framework has probably changed.

But I think that’s part of the fun of it all.

Discovering and implementing a new productivity technique gives me a “boost” of productivity. So if I’m feeling like something has become stale or not working like it used to, I’ll go out searching for a new thing.

It’s exciting and motivating to try new things.

One thing to note - try to not get caught up in the productivity software stuff and switching to every new system. These softwares try to sell you on being more productive - but they won’t. Just pick one, they all do the same thing.

First I’ll talk about some key takeaways I’ve learned...

One thing at a time (The Pieter Levels method)


If you have trouble focusing or being productive (like I did), then it might be important to take a step back and figure out the fundamentals.

Go to the store, buy a stack of post it notes, write one task on each post it note (don’t pull them apart) and then place your post it stack next to your laptop.

Then, work on the item on the top of the stack until it’s complete. Once it’s done put it into the done stack. Then move to the next. If you realize you need to do something else, write that on the next blank post it note.

One cool side effect is that you can physically see that you’re getting work done.

I love this because it taught me two of the most important things:

  1. Do one thing at a time.
  2. Finish what you start.

Here’s a video explaining:


Deep work


Reading Deep Work by Cal Newport changed my life.

What is deep work? An example would be going to a coffee shop early in the morning and working for 2 hours free of distractions. No email, no internet, no social media, no texting, etc.

If you can build a couple of hours a day of deep work into your life, you can achieve extraordinary things over time. A few hours a day can turns into thousands of hours a year of you working on the things you truly want to work on.

Building deep work into my days helped me grow Starter Story and was one of the main reasons I was able to quit my job after a year.

Here’s a video that sums up the messages from the Deep Work book.
How I work today

GTD


The main system I use today is a modified version of GTD, short for Getting Things Done.

GTD is a framework created by David Allen. It’s incredibly practical, and I love it.

For me, this is mainly for bigger picture stuff, so more products, features, code, and less day to day email stuff (that I’ve mostly systemized - which I’ll take about later in the post).

Here’s a screenshot of what it looks like.
This is Notion btw - but use Trello or index cards or post it notes. It doesn’t matter.

I’ll break down the different columns.

The In Tray

I use the In Tray as a sort of triaging station.
If I’m working on something and I’m like “Oh shit, I need to do X” I’ll immediately add it to my in tray so I can get it off my mind.
Every morning I go through my in tray and drag items to the to Today column, or delete them if I realize they are dumb. I’ll also check my calendar in case I have any recurring tasks or meetings (more on that later).

Today

Today is obvious, it’s all of the things I want to get done today.
I almost never finish it but I think it’s important to give yourself a bit more work than you think you can do. Keeps you working hard :)
Throughout the day, I tackle these as fast as I can while taking short breaks. Once I finish the task, it goes in the Done bin on the far right.
See the card on there that says Pomodoro x 4? That’s a task to work on email, which I’ll talk about a bit below.

Projects

These are the “bigger picture” projects that I’m working on. Tasks on the In Tray and Today columns usually correspond to these bigger projects.
Frequently, I’ll create new tasks based on these projects.
For example, I’m creating a YouTube video for this topic How I Work. It’s too big of a project to be just one task, so I will break it down into smaller tasks, like “How I Work” rough draft blog post.
Then next task might be “Revise Draft for How I Work”, then “Film YouTube video”.

Waiting For / Someday Maybe

If I’m waiting on something like buying an external hard drive next time I’m in an electronics store, I’ll leave that there so I can try to keep it top of mind.
If a task is something I want to do, but I don’t feel any obligation then I move it to Someday / Maybe but I rarely even look at that. If I don’t think it’s necessary then I should probably move it out of my sight.
Here’s an awesome video summary about the Getting Things Done book/framework.

Calendar


I use a calendar for recurring things that don’t fit into GTD.

For example, one weekly task I have is Finding and emailing 75 Starter Story leads… I need to do that every week so I can hit my targets, so I try to do that every Thursday.
On Thursday morning or when I get the alert, I will turn that into a Today task in GTD and try to get it done that day.

For me, this works surprisingly well for recurring things.

Same thing for my newsletter, publishing YouTube videos, monthly reviews, meetings etc.


Email


I do a lot of email. I’m probably tackling around 50 actionable emails per day - not including spam and newsletters and random crap. Most of this is Starter Story articles and all of the email correspondence that comes with that.

It is mindless but it is also very important to my business. My goal is to spend as little time in email as possible - so I can focus on creating.
I tackle all of my email with the Pomodoro technique, which I’ll talk about a bit in the next section.

I focus on Inbox Zero, which I really hard for me to hit but I try my best.

I archive/filter/unsubscribe to everything possible. I also I aggressively use Boomerang to stay on top of hundreds of in progress blog posts.

My new product, Pigeon is going to solve a lot of my email headaches which I’m really excited about. For example, I will be able to send a series of emails (drip) to someone that needs to finish their interview, rather than Boomeranging the email thread 4-5 times over the course of a few weeks. It’s going to save me so much time and allow me to raise content output going forward.


My email inbox after waking up this morning


Automate emails

There are also a lot of small tasks that I need to complete, like sharing Starter Stories on reddit, or updating missing information, or notifying people that their Starter Story is live.

I automate everything possible using tools like Sendgrid. Again, this is another thing that Pigeon will solve.

Email tasks

But some things cannot be automated and they require human interaction, so I use what I call email tasks.

For example, sharing Starter Stories on reddit. For reasons I won’t get into I am not automating this task (although I do schedule posts and have a bunch of code that helps me do this in 2 minutes).

But anyways, I have an automated email when a story goes live that I send to myself:

This email is helpful because I can tackle that task very quickly, less than (~2 mins) while I’m going through and getting my Inbox to zero with the pomodoro technique (talk about below).

This also has the hidden benefit of consistency. I would likely forget to do this sometimes. But if it’s in my email inbox, I have no choice.

I think this will also help me systemize for when I hire people too, but we’ll see on that.

Pomodoro


Last, but definitely not least is the greatest productivity hack I’ve found, the pomodoro technique.

I use this “hack” to tackle work that I don’t want to do, like email and monotonous Starter Story work (reading, editing, and revising content).

It’s really simple. Set a timer for 25 minutes and then just go hard on a specific task. When the timer is up, take a 5 minute break, and then do it over. I usually do this 2-4 times and then I can get my inbox to zero.

It’s crazy how much work I can get done with this method, I highly recommend it. If I can do 2 Pomodoro sessions in the morning, that means got all my annoying shit done in one hour - and I can free up the rest of my day to work on the stuff I really want to work on.


I use this one and pin the tab in Chrome.

Thanks for reading!


Just want to end it with this is just what works for me, I’m not an expert, and this will likely change by the time you’ve read it :)

May 2nd, 2019
I’m quitting social media for 30 days. I will reassess on June 1.

Fuck it, I’ve had enough. It’s one of my goals for this year, but I’ve been putting it off for the “right” month.

May 2019 is the right month!

This is gonna be a short post, but I just want to announce it to make it official and to get myself to commit…

Why?

After going on Twitter today, I could feel the negative emotions come over me - mainly issues from comparison of other people.

I can also feel myself tying my own identity to Twitter. Happy when I get likes and comments. Sad when I don’t, or sad when I see others having success...

Rules

I’m already pretty much off Instagram, although I do browse it here and there. On Facebook I use the News Feed Eradicator so that’s pretty much worthless as well.

So rules are… No Facebook, no Instagram, no Twitter, no LinkedIn, no Tinder/dating apps. No matter what.

The only social media I will be able to use is YouTube, but I’m not allowed to look at the comments of others videos. I want to focus on creating and I don’t have much of a following there anyway.

Ok I’m excited as fuck to do this… I will report on my experience soon!

April 6th, 2019
March 2019 #openstartup report:

  • Revenue: $4,044 (+8%)
  • Visitors: 52K (+23%)
  • Mailing List: 4.5K (+12%)

This month I wanted to do something a bit different...

Instead of a tweetstorm, I put together a video!


You can watch the video here.

This is my YouTube debut :)

Excited to start this channel and have some fun with it.

Please subscribe btw!!

I also recorded a video about the "business" side (walkthrough GA and talk about revenue/traffic) which you can find here:


You can watch that here.

Hope you enjoy this different format! See you next month :)

January 28th, 2019
I watched a YouTube video yesterday changed my life in a big way.

The video is called Forced Positivity by PewDiePie, or Felix Kjellberg. I’m a big fan of Felix. I wrote a post a while back about his evolution as a creator.

In this video, he calls out other creators for forcing positivity in their videos. He suggests that many YouTubers are leading viewers on to believe that they are happy all of the time.

But this blog post isn’t about the state of YouTube creators…



His personal struggle

I think what’s more interesting about this video is the story that Felix tells about his personal experience faking positivity in his old videos…

Felix used to mainly create content about video games. For years, he would just make videos about that. He was very successful doing this.

But over time, he grew tired of making that type of content.

He claims that, at one point, he would turn the camera on, be super happy and excited, and then once the camera was off, he would be irritable. I think we can all relate to that!

But even though he was getting tired of making that content, his fans were not - and his channel was growing to become the biggest YouTube channel of all time.


A dilemma

Effectively, he had two choices: 

1. Change up his content, piss off his fans, risk his channel “falling off” and be happy.
2. Keep the same formats, cater to his fans, and be miserable.

Obviously, #1 is the right thing to do. But most people pick #2. The idea of falling off is too scary. You’ve worked too hard to fail like that.


Why #1 is always the right decision

In hindsight, Felix obviously made the right decision (he picked #1).

In the short term, he pissed off some of his subscribers, but in the long term he is happier and (luckily) he also saw even more success.

The reason why #1 is always right is because of passion. If you choose #2, you will lose your passion. Sure, you can still pump out videos for a year and continue to get those dopamine hits of success, marginally growing your channel, but eventually you will burn out.

Passion is the fire that keeps you showing up every day, for years. Passion is the thing that will make your work not suck.

And this is why Felix has been so big for so long. His content, style, etc has evolved based on his passions. He can still show up every day on YouTube and be generally happy.

This video shows why Felix is the biggest creator on the planet - he is honest, stays true to himself, and does not make decisions based on numbers or success.


You must “niche down”

But following your passions is actually contrary to other advice you may hear.

You hear this phrase all the time… if you want success, you must niche down, or you need to get really good at one thing. 

Although that’s probably good advice if you want to be successful, it’s definitely not going to give you happiness over the long term (by long term I’m talking 20 years).

At least for me, doing the same thing over and over again eventually takes a toll. Although it may bring success in the short term, it will eventually lead to burnout and quitting.

Do you know who is really good at doing the same thing over and over again? Companies. That’s what they are designed to do. As people, we are not - we need to keep evolving to be happy.


How this relates to me

So how did this video change my life? This is something I’ve been feeling a lot over the last month.

For 2019, I set crazy goals to try and accomplish things that I know will bring me short term success. I’m just realizing now that to accomplish those goals, I will need to do things that don’t really make me happy - and like Felix - it’s hard to find the passion for them.

Mentally, it’s wearing me down… I’m not looking forward to sitting down and doing some of this work I’ve set out to do. I want things to feel like they did one year ago, where I was literally overjoyed to sit down for 8 hours on a Saturday and ship side projects.

Now, it feels like “work”. It feels like burnout. And that’s exactly what I want to avoid - I quit my job to avoid that shit.

Yesterday, I was feeling mad shitty. I was debating with myself… Why can’t I get more done? Why can’t I get motivated to ship this feature that is next on my to-do list? 

And then I realized it! It’s because I don’t give a fuck about the thing that’s on the top of my to-do list.

It’s like when people ask me to create a podcast for Starter Story. In theory, yes, it is a great idea and it would make me money. But I don’t have any passion for it! I would be fucking miserable doing it.

So I went through my to-do lists and did some deleting :)

January 21st, 2019
Stop calling yourself a “maker”. Stop calling yourself an “entrepreneur”. Stop calling yourself a “Democrat”. Stop calling yourself anything.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot more about why we feel the need to use words like these to identify ourselves.

Have you ever seen someone’s social media bio that says something along the lines of “Entrepreneur, Writer, Speaker, Founder, Husband, Brother, Burrito Connoisseur...”?

Imagine meeting someone in real life and they introduce themselves like that… That person is a douchebag!!

Calling myself a maker

In my Twitter bio, I used to say I was a “maker”. At the time, it seemed like a nice word that generalized the things I was working on.

But for some reason, the word “maker” started picking up steam. Products and communities were getting created that supported makers. All of a sudden there were debates about being a maker, what it means to be a maker, the definition of a startup, etc.

This created a dichotomy - there was “pro-makers” and “anti-makers” battling it out on social media.

It was so cringey. It felt like a political debate.

Stopping calling myself a maker

So then I took the word “maker” out of my Twitter profile and I stopped using it altogether.

But taking the word out of my profile doesn’t matter. The fact that I had it there in the first place (and spent time to craft up a “cool bio”) makes me cringe a lot.

Maybe it’s human nature, but I think many people feel the need to identify with an idea, a group, or a movement.

There’s nothing wrong with being part of a group, but I think it’s important to understand why we identify.

Do you call yourself an entrepreneur so you can put “Forbes 30 Under 30” in your Instagram bio, or is building businesses something you truly love it and could see yourself doing it for 30 years with little success and never talking about it with anyone?

I am 100% guilty of this myself. I’ve made questionable decisions or identified myself with things for the wrong reasons, or just did things because everyone else was doing it - like going to college or exploring careers that I really had no true interest in.

I think it’s important to make a conscious effort to try and avoid these motivations.

Stay out of your comfort zone

Over the past year, I’ve spent a lot of time in Telegram groups, online communities, and Twitter.

While these can be massively beneficial, I think they are also very limiting because they are filled with people who all have very similar opinions!

And I think this feels nice because it’s comfortable. It’s easy to get validation for the things you do.

But it’s important to keep exploring - discovering new people, groups, identities, topic etc..

I need to more actively follow people that have nothing to do with startups. I need to read unrelated books, and meet people that have no idea what a “maker” is.

Don’t tell, listen

I shouldn’t need to use words or phrases to support my identity.

I should let the work I do speak for itself. Instead of telling people what I am, I should listen more. I should inquire, dig deeper, and be more curious.

And when I listen to people, I shouldn’t try to connect the dots to my own narrative or ideas of how the world works.

This is why I’ve left a lot of Telegram groups, limited Twitter use, and stopped browsing many online communities. I get frustrated with the groupthink - no one is going to remember what a “maker” means in 10 years.

January 14th, 2019
Over the last year, I’ve done a bunch of work automating stuff for Starter Story. One of the bigger automations I shipped was social media.

Today, my Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook accounts are 100% self sufficient, posting daily content without any work from me :)

As a solo founder, I believe it’s important to automate as much as you can. Freeing up your time is crucial to getting more done. Also, as a programmer - automating things is fun and it’s a pretty cool feeling to have code working for you while you sleep!

I’ve had a few people ask me about this on Twitter, so I figured I’d write a quick blog post about why and how I did this.

Note - this post is about automating my business social media accounts. I think automating stuff on your personal accounts or using bots is bad.


Why I automated social media

As with anything, there are advantages and disadvantages of having an automated system. First I'll talk about the advantages:


Save time!

I publish new articles on Starter Story every day, so reposting those stories on three different social media platforms is time consuming!

Let’s say that it takes 5 minutes to publish each post on social media… With 7 articles a week on 3 platforms, that’s a couple hours of work per week saved.


No longer think about it

You know when you’re working on something important (and unrelated) and you then you realize you need to do something else that is time sensitive (like post on social media)?

For me, that is extremely disruptive to productivity. Little things like that can derail my focus and lead to getting way less things done.

Now, I no longer think about social media. I turn notifications off for those accounts and I rarely check them. It’s one less thing I have to think about.

Computers are loyal
Humans are forgetful and lazy.

For me, it’s hard to do simple repeatable tasks over long periods of time unless I can turn them into habits.

If you don’t have clear systems for tasks, I will probably forget about them or be too lazy to take action.

But... computers are not forgetful or lazy!

A computer doesn't make mistakes - it always shows up on time, and it never complains :)


There are some downsides to automating
Let’s be honest - the main downside to automating social media is less audience engagement (likes, comments, etc).
Because it's automated, you have less room to be creative and spontaneous in your posts - and your post likely won’t go viral or something like that.

Your followers will also likely catch on that your content is automated in some way. If they perceive this, they may be less likely to like, comment, or engage with it.

So, I think you need to weigh the pros and cons.


Is social media your main marketing channel?

If it came down to a question of automating or not - I think this is the question that can help answer it…

Is social media your main marketing or acquisition channel? 

If not, then I think you should just automate it and forget about it. If it is, then you should probably not automate and put a lot of work into your posts.

For Starter Story, my main acquisition channels are Reddit and search engines. I get, maybe, 10% of my traffic from social media, so for me it makes sense to just automate it.
Automation is an iterative process

Here's something that I don't hear people talking about enough…

Automation is a slow, iterative process (at least for me).

I didn't have my social media automated in one night. In fact it probably took me months to have the thing full automated.

Start with a manual process - then slowly work towards automation
My process always starts manually.

I want to see what works and get a feel for the work involved. Then, I work (slowly) towards automation.

For example - how do hashtags work on Instagram? I had some trial and error there, and learned some things by manually testing it out.

Seeing what works and what doesn't is important and can later inform you on what to automate.

Building automated systems is complicated
A truly automated system is not built overnight (at least for me).

There are many moving parts and I often can't code it up in a couple hours session. So I'll usually start by automating the most time consuming thing.

For example, the first thing I automated was the image assets, this is what they look like today:


Before I had these automated, I was manually creating these assets in Canva! This was a process that took at least 10 minutes, but I felt it was important, especially for social media link previews.

So, this was the first thing I automated - it would save me the most time and it was clear what I needed to do.

Step 1: I designed that image with HTML/CSS and then just started manually taking screenshots of it which saved 10 minutes per post.

Step 2: I set up a screenshot service to automatically do the screenshotting.

Step 3: I wrote the code generates the copy for the social media post, etc etc.

And I did this over a longer period of time. Breaking it up into smaller tasks allowed me to save time with each task, but also not get overwhelmed with the project.

How I did it

Now that I explained some of the why and my high level thoughts, I'll go over the specific implementation.


The creative

It's easy to just automate posting text to social media, but generating dynamic image assets was quite a challenge for me!

The way I do it today is I have a special page that has HTML/CSS that looks like the image.

It's just a regular page on my website, you can see a live version in action here:


Notice the last two paths in that URL? That controls the width and height of the assets.

For instagram I use a "square" image, where Facebook/Twitter I use a more rectangular shape.


Taking screenshots

Now, I have to convert that page into an image.

This part was actually sort of challenging! I couldn't find a good (and free) solution at all.

PhantomJS usually works pretty well, but the issue I ran into was that it doesn't support Flexbox and other CSS stuff that I needed. The screenshots came out all wonky.

I ended up finding a puppeteer based solution - which supports Flexbox - here. You can also specify the width and the height of the screenshot browser window - it was perfect.

Once I take a screenshot of the image I upload it to S3. I also use that image as the og:image for the article page.

I will spare you my code on this because it is absolutely horrendous.

I have some logic set up in my app that anytime a story is updated, a job will run to take a new screenshot. So if the title is updated, I get a new screenshot automatically.


Posting to social media

Now that I have my images (the hardest part IMO) I have to actually post them to social media.

I run a sidekiq job once every morning that looks at every published post the day before and runs the code to post those to Buffer.


Logistically, this allows me to make last minute changes to posts or still post something later in the day, knowing that the social media worker will run the day after publish.


Social media API

I post to social media using the Buffer API - their API is fucking amazing and the best part is that it supports Instagram - which at the time of writing is a very new API.

What's nice about using Buffer is their queue system. When I add a post to Buffer, it doesn't immediately post right away, it gets queued up to be posted based on a schedule I set - which is customizable by the platform.

Here’s my Instagram schedule:


This is nice because my worker runs early in the morning and sometimes I have multiple posts getting published in one day but I'd like the social media posts to be spread apart.

Here is the basic code I wrote to post to the Buffer API. Super easy!



Generating copy

This is another possibly overlooked, but easy thing to make your posts look a bit less automated.

Different platforms have different standards or expectations of the "copy" or text that goes into the post.

For example:
  • Twitter only allows 280 characters.
  • Instagram doesn't allow links.
  • You can put a ton of text inside Instagram caption.
I won't go into too much detail here but will show a few screenshots of what my copy looks like:



For Instagram, I have a set of 1-200 hashtags and I randomly select 30 to include in the bottom of the description.


Tagging people

Another easy thing to do that will help with engagement - tag people in your posts!

When people get tagged, they get notified! Which may mean more retweets, shares, followers, etc.

In my interview form, I try to get people’s Instagram, facebook, etc handles and I save them in my database.

When I go to write the copy for the post, I check to see if they exist in my database and include it in the copy if it is.


Other social media posts I've automated

Other than just new posts whenever I have a new story, I also have automation set up for a couple other things.

Twitter Quotes
I run a daily worker that picks an article at random, finds blockquotes inside the article, and then posts them to Twitter.

Only took me like an hour to write that code and it's a nice way to switch it up.


Tools posts
Because I have every interviewer record the tools that they work with, I have another Twitter post that tags all of these companies.

A couple weeks after a story is shared, I will create another post that lists out these tools and tags the companies.

It's a nice way to engage the community!



That's it!

Hopefully this post didn't bore you too much!

Although this stuff may seem pretty obvious or whatever, I really did enjoy building these automations and it's a pretty cool feeling to never have to do anything, and having robots working for you while you sleep!

Thanks for reading and please reach out if you have any questions on any of this.


January 4th, 2019
This blog post is an archive of this series of tweets that I wrote, so I apologize for spelling errors and strange formatting :)

My #openstartup and life update...

December 2018:

  • 💵 Revenue: $3,595
  • 📈 Uniques: 34,537
  • ✉️ Mailing List: 3,488

Lots of fun stuff happened this month.


This month started out in Thailand!

I flew out to Bangkok and traveled with my mom and sister for two weeks.

Although I enjoyed traveling, it is hard to not work for that long... towards the end I started getting antsy - squeezing in a few hours of work every couple days…

I got to Chiang Mai mid month (where I am now) and still struggled a bit to adjust. Wasn't sure what to expect... What's the life of a digital nomad like?

Turns out they just work a lot 😂

Was also lucky to find a few @wip'ers in CM - so that's been nice to have some friends.

But it also feels like another world for me.

It's weird. My routine is all over the place. I've lost track of the day of the week. Sometimes I work until 2AM and doesn't feel like I'm doing something wrong...

But the freedom is also reallyyyy nice.

Ok back to the business stuff -- traffic was down this month.

Was getting a bit worried but I think it's attributed to it just being the holidays. I think maybe people are less interested in starting a business at this time. In the new year I'm seeing it spike really nice.

And google traffic is continuing to spike! In the past few days, I've been seeing 700+ uniques/day from google search - that's an all time high!

Since "business" was a bit dead this month, I spent a ton of time on features and clean up - which has been really nice.

First feature: Starter Story Books!

https://twitter.com/thepatwalls/status/1078164142379286528

I also made a crucial design change to stories pages!

In 2019 I want to become a much better and faster designer. The book @refactoringui really inspired me!

https://twitter.com/thepatwalls/status/1078936845147353089

I also shipped an Explore page - which is basically a filterable interface that creates SEO friendly links.

Embed:tweet

Another big feature....

I quietly shipped a Starter Story Premium Membership!

This will be my first attempt at true MRR, and it is very much a work in progress - I'm excited to add more features over 2019 and really understand how to create an MRR business.

And this month was big for backend stuff.

As I'm scaling up everything - I need to be utilizing all of the code I can to grow the website while staying a 1 man team. Some stuff I'm working on…

Most notably, I'm working on a "true" CRM.

I want to eventually be able to manage hundreds of in-progress interviews and content - and not do it through email.

What I'm building will save me 10 hrs/week + I think it could productized for other multi author blogs!

Another big thing - my end of the year blog post!

I almost didn't write it... got nervous it would come off too corny.

Very glad I did tho - had so many ppl msg saying it inspired them / it was a nice to give people (not on Twitter) an update!

https://twitter.com/thepatwalls/status/1079424925679607808

I also got back into running and I signed up for a half marathon in Bali.

Feels really nice to get back into it and it's helping me focus and I'm feeling a bit healthier.

Lastly, I spent a lot of December thinking about my goals for 2019 - I don't think I ever spent that much time on goals before - constantly revising them and thinking about them often.

Here they are...

I'm so amped up for 2019, and over the past couple weeks I've been feeling really focused and happy.

As always, thanks for reading!!!

🖤

December 30th, 2018
2018 was easily the best year of my life. So many good things happened. So many unexpected things happened.

But 2018 was also a very different kind of year for me.

I spent a lot of time and focus on my career and my startups - and less on things like going out and watching Netflix shows.

I think I sort of got my life on track - financially, career, focus and most importantly, my happiness.

This year, I think I finally found something I truly love - creating products.

It was also a great year because of all of the traction I had. I built a successful indie business, I quit my job, and I became a digital nomad.

I also launched the biggest project of my life (24 hour startup) and inspired thousands of people.

I wanted to write something nice (and complete) to close out the year - a true recap of my first year doing indie startups!

This post is inspired by an old Pieter Levels blog post, where he looks back on his year through his old tweets. I think it’s a really nice way to put together a blog post. That blog post is also very special to me because it’s how I discovered his story and became inspired to follow a similar path.

Fresh off of a startup disaster


Going back to late 2017, I had just experienced a complete startup failure. Two friends and I started a company, got a YC interview, and ultimately failed HARD.

https://twitter.com/thepatwalls/status/941753612207878144

I was so excited and determined to make that startup work, and when it fell apart, it kind of fucked me up.

Along with other things, I needed a change in life and I decided to leave San Francisco and move to New York City.

I can start a business by myself?

Although I was enjoying being in a new city with a new job, I was still longing to start my own business - but this time I had no co-founders or friends that were interested in something like that.

I started reading more Indie Hackers interviews and I discovered Pieter Levels - I realized there were people out there starting successful “indie” businesses by themselves.

I started playing around with ideas and ultimately created starterstory.com!

To kick off the website, I wrote my first blog post about why I was starting it:


In that blog post, I wrote about my main personal goal: to one day be able to work for myself comfortably anywhere in the world.

I also wrote:

I'm not sure when that will be (I have a full-time job right now), but the only way I can make that happen is by trying ideas, starting new things, and keeping an eye out for the right opportunity.

Looking back, I think I just wanted to create something - just get something simple off the ground and make some sort of progress.

At the time, I had nothing in terms of my own assets... All the work I had done in my career was for other companies, other bosses - trading money for my time.

I was also in a decent amount of credit card and student loan debt.

I made my first dollar!

A couple months into starting the blog I made $3 off Amazon affiliate program! I remember being so excited about this.

I didn’t care that it was $3. It was more about the fact I had made my first dollar that wasn’t from a salary.

https://twitter.com/thepatwalls/status/950068330924331008

That little bit of money gave me more motivation, and I started working harder on the project.

I worked on it every day after work and on many weekends. I was learning so much and I was loving it.

My first big break
I woke up one morning to find my interview on the front page of Reddit!


After two months, I finally had legitimate traffic on my site! This was my first break - I had finally found an effective platform to share my interviews going forward.

I hit 200, and then quickly 300 email subscribers!

https://twitter.com/thepatwalls/status/953388533498171392

My first Product Hunt launch


About a month later I finally launched on Product Hunt.

I spent an insane amount of time prepping for that launch. It was the culmination of 3-4 months of work - and I did a lot to prepare. I was very nervous about it being successful.

I followed every “guide” out there. I took the day off of work so I could focus on the launch.

https://twitter.com/thepatwalls/status/956547966881366016

Then I got featured on the front page! And then Ryan Hoover left a comment!

I was on cloud nine! I started dancing around the room with Travis Scott blasting. This is easily one of the greatest moments of my life. I didn’t even reach #1 for the day - I think I was like #5 or #6 - but I was so happy about that.

I even had people emailing me nice things.

https://twitter.com/thepatwalls/status/957376972371488768

For the first time in my life, I felt like I had created something valuable and people were thanking me for it.

That is one of the greatest feelings in the world and it’s better than any kind of money.

My first haters

I even started getting “haters” on Reddit.

https://twitter.com/thepatwalls/status/963632015340916736

Back then, this really affected me! I was so self-conscious… I used to reply to every negative comment and construct long, thought out arguments with trolls on Reddit. That was such a waste of time!

But through that, I learned that if you have haters it means you’re probably doing something right because people are noticing you!

Hitting the front page of Hacker News

Then I got another massive break.

Similar to my first time hitting the front page of Reddit, this also happened unexpectedly.

It was 9 AM and I was about to go to work. I had a new article and I thought “Fuck it. Let’s try posting this to Hacker News…”

Five minutes later I was hitting the front page, and I was hitting it hard. My article held the #1 spot for an entire day and drove 40k people to my website.

https://twitter.com/thepatwalls/status/966321113243451392

I had to go to work while it was happening and I couldn’t focus on anything else. I was also so worried that my coworkers would find out about my side project (they browse HN)

This was an absolute game changer for me.

Starter Story was being exposed to so many people in the tech world. I had CEOs emailing me and one of them even wanted to acquire my website.

This also got me to 1,000 subscribers:

https://twitter.com/thepatwalls/status/966519067803881472

And it also drove $5,000 in sales for the company that was featured in the article:

https://twitter.com/thepatwalls/status/966851698273734656

Finding a community

Around that time, I found WIP - a community that really changed everything for me.

I got to join a chat and work alongside people that were just like me - focused on shipping and building indie businesses.

In WIP, I was in a constant behind the scenes watching indie hackers have success. It felt like every day someone was hitting #1 on Product Hunt or hitting the front page of Hacker News. I got so much support from that community - it was like a startup cheat code!

I also started making “internet friends” from WIP - and was able to build up an amazing network of people I know from around the world.

I really owe a lot to WIP - I wouldn’t be anywhere without it.

Struggling for focus and productivity

A few months after the launch, I started to struggle.

I remember feeling a bit stuck during these days. I think I was experiencing the trough of sorrow.

I was pretty unmotivated. I didn’t have any good personal systems in place for productivity. It became a struggle to put out any interviews and I often did the absolute bare minimum.

It was also a really tough time in my family. My dad had an unexpected heart attack and nearly died. I flew home for a few weeks to handle that.

This really affected me - especially because the heart attack was due to genetically high cholesterol - something that will affect me for the rest of my life.

I decided to quit smoking for the rest of my life (was addicted to JUUL) and started exercising every day (which I will talk about a bit later in the post).

Discovering the power of open startups

I did my first open startup report on Twitter, and I started realizing more of the power of being transparent and honest. It really attracts people.

https://twitter.com/thepatwalls/status/980973005844221952

I was also aggressively saving money, trying to get out of credit card debt.

https://twitter.com/thepatwalls/status/984822090430926849

I started working more and more on my business, and less on stuff like drinking, going out, and watching sports/Netflix. And I was really enjoying it too - I loved working on my side projects!

I continued to use Reddit to propel Starter Story. There have been many ups and downs, but it always seems to come back and work itself out...

I even got my own Reddit flair!!

https://twitter.com/thepatwalls/status/988581118650802176

The more I followed Pieter Levels, the more I began to realize that we are similar in a lot of ways. A discussion we had about being a solo founder:

https://twitter.com/thepatwalls/status/992647652293709824

I feel that YC and many other “startup” authorities talk about how you need co-founders. But often that’s really hard to find!

Maybe I don’t have a co-founder because of my style of working... I don’t know - but it’s really refreshing to see other people have massive success as a solo founder.

Revenue is going up

Meanwhile, my monthly revenue is very slowly going up. Every month, it was a couple hundred bucks. I started getting more and more excited to share my reports each month.

I loved showing people that I was making progress, growing my audience, and keeping myself accountable! That’s one thing that’s great about open startups - you are motivated to show up every month with some nice updates!

https://twitter.com/thepatwalls/status/993223817337167878

I started solving focus & productivity

Thanks to WIP, I shipped (did work) for 100 days straight.

https://twitter.com/thepatwalls/status/996780763314966528

My productivity started to improve - I started to become more motivated.

I think I became more motivated because I started working on things that I actually wanted to work on.

https://twitter.com/thepatwalls/status/1002602757113679874

I ported over Starter Story to Ruby on Rails (which I know way better) and started shipping tons of features. It was nice to have a balance between content and features. I also started automating a ton of the monotonous stuff that comes with running a blog.

At this time, I started waking up early in the morning before work to work on features that would ultimately save me so much time in the long run. I was waking up at 5:30 AM and putting in 3 hours - it was a very productive time.

For example, I automated all of the social media including generating the images. I absolutely love this kind of stuff.

I don’t know why I love it so much. But it feels so great to automate things and have things be running while you sleep.

https://twitter.com/thepatwalls/status/1004335294139846656

I also started using the Pieter Levels method of shipping - a stack of post-it notes:

https://twitter.com/levelsio/status/908833499452514309

A few months later, I hit >$500 monthly revenue:

https://twitter.com/thepatwalls/status/1013772663037288448

I also started writing more - really enjoying writing blog posts about what I was learning. One of my favorite blog posts (and one that people really appreciated):

https://twitter.com/thepatwalls/status/1018843072115986433

My health

One thing that wasn’t super great during 2018 - my health.

After my dad’s heart attack I realized I really needed to make a change.

I committed to running 100 days in a row:

https://twitter.com/thepatwalls/status/1024005784693288960

This is the best decision I made in 2018.

Not only did I become more productive, but I grew to absolutely love running in New York City. It is the most unbelievable place to run.

There’s nothing better than running on the West Side on a hot day.

Meeting Casey Neistat

Another benefit of running in New York… meeting Casey Neistat.

https://twitter.com/thepatwalls/status/1033495629731913728

I’ve become such a huge fan of Casey over the last years. He has really inspired me and I watch his videos all the time to get pumped.

I can’t think of many other celebrities that I’d rather meet. I was so starstruck.

Getting the biggest check of my life

It was around this time I got an email from Andrew Bialecki, the CEO of Klaviyo:


We got to talking, and a few months later, I asked them if they would sponsor the Starter Story newsletter.

They offered to sponsor the newsletter for an entire year! And paid for it upfront.

I was in absolute shock.

I didn’t actually believe it was real until the money hit my bank account - and when it did I had to leave work and go on a walk. I might have cried a little.

But in all seriousness, getting Klaviyo as a sponsor was a massive milestone - it allowed me to focus on building the site rather than chasing sponsors every month.

And it helped me hit $1,000 monthly revenue!

https://twitter.com/thepatwalls/status/1036958760193941505

The craziest idea of my life

I was on a run in New York City and I randomly came up with a crazy idea… I wanted to launch a startup in 24 hours.

I committed to doing it with this tweet:

https://twitter.com/thepatwalls/status/1043242997050167302

That tweet started going viral, and the rest was history.

Over 10,000 people tuned in that weekend to watch me build and launch a startup on Twitch.

I finished it in 17 hours and I continued to go viral.

https://twitter.com/thepatwalls/status/1043760023162298370

It felt like I became internet famous for a minute. I got over 1.5K new followers on Twitter in one day.

I woke up the next day and my project went #1 on Product Hunt and on Hacker News.

I even got props from one of my idols… Pieter Levels!


Then I quit my job

Two days after my 24-hour startup, I went to my manager and quit my job.

It sounds so corny, but it just felt like that was the moment. I realized I needed to go full time on my own stuff.

I don’t really know where it came from - but I felt like I had to do it.

https://twitter.com/thepatwalls/status/1047117577313497088

Getting more haters

I even got some more haters from my 24 hour startup!

https://twitter.com/thepatwalls/status/1043923456881033219

(P.S. I wrote a massive post about the 24 hour startup if you want to learn more.)

I started a trend

All of a sudden, everyone started streaming stuff - I was getting tagged on Twitter as the “streaming startup” guy...

I started meeting tons of new people that were streaming, including the one and only Ethan, whom I admire a lot.

https://twitter.com/thepatwalls/status/1047111537654157312

Then I decided to launch another 24 hour startup the following weekend. I was doing everything I could to capitalize on my newfound success.

https://twitter.com/thepatwalls/status/1045703624825991168

I moved home

After I quit my job, I immediately left New York City and moved home into my mom’s place to prepare to go digital nomad.

I was all of a sudden working on my own stuff - 100% of the time - I had never had this feeling before.

I got to wake up in the morning and work on whatever I wanted. This was (and is) such an awesome feeling.

I finally got out of credit card debt!

It took me an entire year to do this:

https://twitter.com/thepatwalls/status/1050775252458852352

Redditors also started a petition against me. At this point, I stopped caring about that stuff!

It was also nice to have so many people comment nice things in the thread - we beat the haters!!

https://twitter.com/thepatwalls/status/1055167320421584897

A crazier idea - 24 Hour Startup Challenge

I could only think of one crazier idea than launching a startup in 24 hours - and that would be organizing an event allowing hundreds of people to do it as well.

With my newfound freedom, I birthed the idea of the 24 Hour Startup Challenge - and I teamed up with two internet friends to launch the most ambitious project of my life.

https://twitter.com/thepatwalls/status/1058042835327311872

This reception on this was insane - it was the biggest thing I’ve ever done.

It was also a lot of pressure. For those 3-4 weeks - I worked the hardest I ever have in my life.

I even got a crazy shoutout from my indie startup idol, none other than Pieter Levels.

https://twitter.com/levelsio/status/1058659800630747136

I also got to make connections and interview a ton of my indie startups idols - Courtland, Mubs, Pieter, and so many more people...

https://twitter.com/thepatwalls/status/1063481630273093632

The 24 Hour Startup event was a massive success. Hundreds of people signed up, and in the end, 96 startups were launched.

In two weeks, we went from an idea to the biggest indie startup event of all time! We raised and gave out $4,000 in prizes and did all of it on a $0 budget.

https://twitter.com/thepatwalls/status/1064601972517400577

Going nomad

And that brings me to today! A few weeks ago, I flew to Thailand to start my digital nomad journey - traveling the world and working on my startups.

2018 was such an amazing year, through many ups and downs, but I’m especially thankful for all of the people that have helped me throughout this journey - even in the smallest ways.

Ready for 2019

I’m realizing that my journey is just beginning.

Although I’ve had some nice success, I want to 10x it. I want 2019 and the next few years to be even bigger. I’m ready to go all in, work hard, build and launch tons of stuff - and most importantly find my way!

I’m so excited. Thank you for reading.

Update: A couple people mentioned they were trying to reach me over text, my American number doesn’t work anymore! Hit me up on Instagram or you can iMessage me at [email protected] :)

December 4th, 2018
This blog post is an archive of this series of tweets that I wrote, so I apologize for spelling errors and strange formatting :)
My @starter_story #openstartup and life update...
November 2018:
  • 💵 Revenue: $2,736
  • 📈 Uniques: 19,470
  • ✉️ Mailing List: 3,287
So much awesome stuff happened in the last two months 😁👇

First of all, this update is for the last two months.

Because of the craziness of #24hrstartup (which I'll talk about later) - I missed posting my October 2018.

So this may be a bit longer than my usual threads 😅

October 2018:

  • 💵 Revenue: $1,723
  • 📈 Uniques: 33,508

October 2018 was actually my first "down month" in terms of revenue.

It's funny, it's the same month I quit my job... 😜

October was a massive month in terms of traffic, but I also started to get nervous about my business model. Finding new sponsors every month SUCKS!

In early October I quit my job and moved home!

Working 100% on my projects is AMAZING. If I can make it work, I will never have a job again.

It's hard to imagine ever working like that again. But also, I see some great benefits of having a full time job + side project.

When I was full time I was much more determined because of my time constraints.

I would wake up at 6AM and knock out a few hours before starting work. Now, it's much harder to do that.

So mentally, it feels great to be without a job, but I feel less productive overall.

I am now officially nomad!

I'm writing this tweetstorm from @hubbathailand - just got in here yesterday after 30+ hours of flying.

This month I'm going to be touristing Thailand and making my way to Chiang Mai where I will be living there for a few months.

Last update I noted that I wanted to find more long-term sponsors for StarterStory - so I can spend more time on growth and less time on... finding sponsors.

Spent much of October 2018 trying to figure that out... cold emails, meetings with people, etc

And I found the ultimate sponsor...

@klaviyo is now sponsoring the ENTIRE StarterStory website 😁😁

This is everything I wanted.

Klaviyo is such an amazing tool that everyone that uses it LOVES and it actually drives serious revenue for stores.

So I'm super grateful for @abialecki and the whole Klaviyo team for that.

This saves 5+ hours per week dealing with sponsors and worrying about if I can pay the rent. Now I can focus 100% on growing content and adding features.
10/ Added "starters" pages.

Now, we have individual pages for each entrepreneur. Soon, I will add business pages as well.

I want StarterStory to be more than content - a database of businesses, entrepreneurs, and content.

This adds ~200 new pages to our Google Index.
On that note, Google search continues to grow...

Impressions are getting close to 40K per day.
My #1 focus is content.

  • Oct: 30 pieces of content
  • Nov: 23 pieces of content

That's almost one post per day.

My goal next year is to be doing 2-3 posts per day.

Pumping out content as a one-man show is challenging... I'm continuing to build software and automation to help.

I did another (personal) 24hrstartup.


- #2 product of the day
- 270 upvotes on @producthunt
- inspired @levelsio to build  http://makerrank.co
14/ Personally, I LOVE this project.

I'm a massive fan of hip hop and I think something like this has potential. Record labels are desperate to find talent early, and to be able to provide them insights into that I think it's something they would pay for.

I made a ton of updates to https://youdontneedwp.com

https://twitter.com/thepatwalls/status/1057046536306061312

On the topic of content automation, I also added a new "story" dashboard for @starter_story.

  • Enter all meta information (revenue, name, etc)
  • Write into the Google doc right there
  • “Submit" functionality.

This saves me lots of time and allows me to be more hands off.

 

And now for the elephant in the room...

The 24 Hour Startup...

This was the biggest thing I've ever done in my life and I'm so happy about its success.

I talk more about the numbers here 👇

https://twitter.com/thepatwalls/status/1067860977226403840

But want to talk more about how this came about and my thoughts behind it.

I had the idea for a "24 hour startup hackathon" right after I did my first 24 hour startup. But I was sitting on the idea for a while.

I had many doubts about the idea...

Boy I was wrong.

I reached out to @arminulrich since he built @shipstreams and we decided to work together + @_feloidea joined.

We realized the only time we could do it was Nov 17 (bcuz of holidays) so we put our heads down and launched a website in 1 day.

Then the hype train BLEW UP.

We had 100 signups in like 24 hours. At that point we realized we "had something" so we then did everything we could to make the event as big as possible.
21/ It felt amazing to have that traction, but it also destroyed me.

I didn't do ANYTHING but #24hrstartup for about 3 weeks...

There was so much to do, dealing with sponsors, managing the event, setting rules, building the app, managing the community, running the stream...
22/ But, I don't care - it was so much fun.

That was our moment, and we had to capitalize.

I LOVED working with @arminulrich and @_feloidea. Normally I'm cautious of working with other people - can get complicated - but these guys JUST GET SHIT DONE.

We are the perfect team 😁

I believe that streaming + making is the next big thing.

So what's next?

@arminulrich and @_feloidea and I are heads down, working on Shipstreams 2.0 🚢 - this will be a new platform to enable makers to ship AND build their audience.

I'm so excited.

And that's pretty much it...

Sorry for the long thread, live updating, and if it was a bit scatterbrained - I write these "off the cuff" so any questions let me know!

Thanks for reading!!!

October 30th, 2018
Why haven’t you learned how to code? 

That is the question I asked myself for most of my life, but did nothing about it.

I didn’t learn to code until I was 25 years old (about 3 years ago), however, deep down I knew my entire life that I should have been doing it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately and how coding changed my life, and also why it took me so long to figure it out.

When I mentally made the switch

I want to talk about a moment I had about three years ago. I remember it so vividly.

A little bit of context - I did a coding boot camp around this time - and towards the end of the boot camp you start your “capstone project” which is where you finally get to work on your own project (a full-featured web app built from scratch).

Although the boot camp was amazing, it was creating my own app that absolutely floored me. It was the moment I realized that *I* could build an app by myself, and I was actually doing it right now? Such an amazing feeling.

Sorry if this sounds corny, but I just remember this moment so well. I felt this overall thrill in my body and a lot of adrenaline over the course of a couple weeks.
I actually wrote about this on my old daily Tumblr when I was in the boot camp:

FEBRUARY 25, 2016

I cannot believe it’s only been two days since we kicked off our capstone project. Been such a whirlwind. I have been so focused on this project it’s crazy. I honestly cannot explain how exciting this is and how much fun I find this process.

I’ve had my doubts about that coding is the right move for my career, even through the regular curriculum over the past few weeks. At times it was hard to get motivated to finish the projects/exercises assigned in class… But now that I’m working on my own project, it all makes sense and feels very right.

I don’t think I told many people about that feeling I had at the time - mostly because my peers in the boot camp didn’t see it that way. From what I perceived, it seemed like the project was a drag for many of my other classmates.

For me, it was the best thing in the world. I just remember the rush I felt so well. It was like a drug. Maybe it’s just me, but has anyone else felt this?

Coding == creating

The better question is for this blog post... why haven’t you learned how to create?

For me, learning to code was the catalyst to becoming a creator. Once I felt the power to create, my entire perspective on life changed.

This is again going to sound pretentious/corny but it felt like it gave my life purpose. All of a sudden I stopped wasting time. I stopped caring about Netflix shows and fantasy football. I started working on things I really cared about.

So why did it take me 25 years... My journey to maker.

I want to look back a bit on my life to understand why I put it off for so long and how the journey got me there.

Maybe someone reading out there has a similar childhood or experience growing up and this would help them.

Early high school

When I was younger, I was always into tech. I remember getting my first Mac at 14 years old. I experienced Mac OS X for the first time and I fell in love with Apple.
I became obsessed with tech and the Web 2.0 internet days - I was really into reading Engadget, This Week In Tech, Digg & Kevin Rose, etc.
That summer, I started messing around the internet and found a way to win free iPods and make money. I remember that summer I made like $7k off the internet.
And it was so much fun.
I also learned HTML and CSS and built my own website so I could make more money off the free iPods thing. Back then, w3schools was like the only good resource I could find...
After that, I made another website, this time an online community for other people doing the free iPods thing. All when I was like 14/15.
Sidenote: I see a lot of super young makers out there, which I think is amazing. If you’re reading this keep going!

How life changes
After that summer I went back to school and kind of forgot about the whole thing. I grew up in a small town so there weren’t as many like-minded people and there was no Twitter.
I guess I went back to school and become a normal teenage kid again - normal high school kid stuff. Building a business on the internet back then wasn’t “a thing”. This was before YouTube and the iPhone.
But in school, I was always slacking. I graduated high school with a 2.something GPA and overall hated the experience.

College
So continuing on to college, why didn’t I learn to code then?
I don’t want to make excuses, but if you do bad in high school, you won’t get into a good college. At that time in your life, getting into college is like the most important thing in the world. Since I didn’t get into a good college, I had low confidence.
I thought I wasn’t smart enough to be a computer science major and that I would drop out. I decided on English as my major because people told me I was good at writing. That seemed doable.
Then I got into a better college (transferred) and switched my major to Economics. I should have switched to Comp Sci, but they made it so hard to do that. Many extra years and prerequisites.
I still hadn’t learned to code yet, but I was getting closer (more math-y degree).

After college
I got a “good” job in Accounting lined up out of college in San Francisco.
When I started, I realized this corporate thing was horrible. Office Space-level horrible. I felt like I was stuck though. Luckily, I got out of it after about 11 months and found a new job - at a startup called Anaplan.
Instead of doing accounting I was then doing financial model implementations with a SQL-like software.
I was BUILDING. It wasn’t “code”, but it was close.
I was building custom financial applications for companies like Tesla and HP. It was like building little apps and I loved it.
And this was finally the moment where it clicked. It was at this point that I knew I needed to learn how to code. 14 years after I really should have started. 14 years wasted (not really but kinda).
I was contemplating going back for a masters in computer science. Then I learned about these things called coding boot camps. It was the most amazing concept I had ever heard of. Three months and you’ll be an engineer…? I didn’t even think twice - I knew that’s what I wanted to do.
Looking back, I think the thing that got me here was just a genuine curiosity for something better. Always looking for something better and not settling.
So why didn’t I just do it?
I think the most important reasons were (1) focus and (2) understanding the why.

1. Focus
This is the most important. I did not know how to focus.
I knew that I wanted to learn how to code, and I thought about it often - but the whole sitting down and actually doing it - that was near impossible for me for most of my life.
When I actually tried to sit down and learn it, it was like Codecademy javascript or something. That is NOT the way to learn (for me).
I realized that I need to learn by creating! Making an app, a website, or something that solves a need in your life. Or just falling into it out of luck (that job I got).
I believe learning through projects is the best way, because you feel pride about your own work, and motivation to make it through really hard things to improve your project.

2. Understanding the why
Why should I learn to code...?
Most people would say it’s because it’s a valuable skill, it’s great for job security, etc etc.
I don’t think those are strong enough reasons to spend 12 hours a day banging your head against the wall in agony to get something working in your code.

You need to have a real, deep-rooted reason to do it.
It wasn’t until I was unhappy with my career and thinking about the rest of my life when I realized this was the thing I needed. Believing that it would change the course of my life and make me happy. I couldn’t see that in college because college is a lie :)
Once I got out of college and into a “real” job, I then had a reason. It was the corporate shithole that made me realize I needed to get out of it.

October 8th, 2018
On October 15th, 2017 -  just about a year ago - I published my very first Starter Story blog post.

I had no experience blogging or building websites.

12 months later I’ve published 142 pieces of content and learned a ton about building a website/blog/whatever you want to call it. Starter Story is now monetized at ~$1.7k in monthly revenue. (UPDATE: Apr 2019 now monetized at $4.1k/month)

Here are some more stats:

  • 109 founder interviews
  • 33 non-interview blog posts
  • 350,131 words written
  • 439,856 pageviews
  • 18,036 Reddit karma

UPDATE: I’m now working on a tool to help you publish a similar amount of blog posts! Check out Pigeon :)

Time commitment

I did all almost all of this as a side project (on top of a full-time job). I say almost because I just quit my full-time job two weeks ago to go full time on this and try the whole indie maker thing :)

But I don’t want to make it sound like I only spent a few hours a week on this. I’ve spent a lot of time building Starter Story. Many nights and weekends. If I were to guess, I probably put in an average of 15 hours/week since starting.

Through working all of these hours, I’ve learned a lot about what works, but I’ve probably also wasted a lot of time on what doesn’t. I wanted to write this post to guide others who might be looking to get started. I know others can do the same thing in a lot less time.


My #1 secret

Before we get into this I want to talk about my “secret”.

I don’t write anything, and I don’t pay copywriters.

I leverage the amazing knowledge and writing of others.

This doesn’t mean I just sit back and enjoy the ride though. I spend most of my time editing, formatting, and revising the writing of others (which I’ll talk about later in the post).


Let me walk you through my journey

So I want to take you through my process before I had any interviews and how I got to where I am today.

Starting out

Background: I talk more about why I started Starter Story in this post, but basically, I wanted to work on a side project that wouldn’t interfere with my full-time job. So I came up with the idea for Starter Story, a website that would showcase interviews with founders.

OK, now I had the idea and needed to find people to interview. But.. I didn’t have a website. I reached out to my friend who started an online jewelry business and told him about my idea and asked him if he wanted to be interviewed.

He agreed, so I called him up on the phone and asked him a bunch of questions over the course of an hour. I recorded the conversation and later transcribed the call to text (a seriously long and painful process), and then edited the crap out of it.

I released this interview in mid October 2017. I shared it on my personal Facebook, my LinkedIn and that’s it. I didn’t have any channels at the time, and I had no following online at all.

Let’s take a fun trip back in Google Analytics to that week. Humble beginnings 😆

Yes, that’s 23 visitors on the site in the first week. I’m serious when I say I had no following!

Finding more interviews

I started reaching out to more friends.

I published this interview the next week. He was my old roommate and had started a business selling cat treats.

I kept asking around, I wrote down a list of all the potential entrepreneurs I knew. I asked a bunch of people. Most people denied or didn’t respond to me.

But then I got connected with Taylor Offer from FEAT Socks. This guy is legit! I interviewed him over the phone and got a great interview. This is still one of my most popular interviews.

I was spending my nights after work taking phone calls and spending the rest of my time editing down the audio from the calls and converting this into written interviews.

Each interview seemed to lead to another interview somehow, and I soon had a very rudimentary website to show people. It only had a few interviews but it was something to show. Sure my friends would agree to do interviews without seeing a website - but it would be very tough to convince strangers without one.

What Starter Story looked like at 4 interviews

The difficulty of phone interviews

I couldn’t do interviews over the phone anymore. It would take an ungodly amount of time to revise to a readable written format. Plus, the conversational interviews converted to text never came out that well (you can read them to see what I mean).

What you say in a conversation is a lot different than how you write something - writing is so much more eloquent and, in my opinion, conveys something 5x more succinctly than what audio can.

Another issue is once you edit the audio down and write it out (a process that took several hours), I would send it back to the interviewee and they wouldn’t even like it!

There were 3-4 people that I interviewed that didn’t even email me back once I sent them the first draft…

Written interviews

I decided to try out written interviews.

In hindsight it sounds obvious, but for me it felt weird to ask people to write interviews for your no-name blog.

But I really had no other option. Calling people was not scalable. Here’s my template on how I ask people.


An email pro tip: I always try to end my emails with a simple answer/call to action. I try not to leave anything open-ended.

If I don’t have the upper hand (aka I’m asking for something) I try to make the conversation/process as frictionless as possible.

Cold emails

Now that I had a website with a few interviews, I decided to start reaching out to random people. I found the Shopify Masters podcast and found the emails to as many guests as I could.

I put all these leads in a spreadsheet and used Hunter.io to find emails and I sent them each emails one by one.

I sent cold emails that looked like this:


The response was surprisingly good!


I didn’t realize it at the time, but the reason for this is because I was asking people for an interview that were being interviewed on another podcast. People that get interviewed are more likely to want to be interviewed again. Duh!

I realized cold emailing was an effective tactic and decided to bear down on that strategy.

Automation

I didn’t do any automation in the beginning. I hand emailed everyone one by one.

Looking back, I could have sped up the process with email software or whatever, but I didn’t. I think it’s because I had no idea if cold emails were going to work.

My advice for others would be not to automate things right away. Doing things manually teaches you a lot about the ins and outs and minutia.

Find out what works, then automate.

For example, I was able to test out different ways of saying things in emails and used my intuition to tweak language accordingly.

Instead of emailing 50 people with one click (which I later will get to), I got a feel for each lead and was able to understand who they were when I got an email back, or if I didn’t get an email.

Rejection & the numbers game

Rejection sucks, even over email. I still get a bit sad to this day when I send a bunch of cold emails and get rejections.

But I definitely have gotten more used to it. It’s a numbers game.

To this day I’ve gotten over 100 interviews published. But I’ve sent over 1,000 emails. 10% is a good rate!

The template

One thing I learned from Courtland from Indie Hackers is to have a good question template.

Instead of just asking the question “How did you come up with the idea?” in the template, I use has a series of sub-questions to help the reader provide better answers.


Getting quality answers is the #1 most important thing, which I’ll talk more about later. I try to do everything in my ability to optimize for quality.

Email flows, templates, and shortcuts

After sending so many cold emails you start to develop a flow, and your inbox becomes hell.

For me, the typical email flow is something like:

  1. Cold email
  2. They respond
  3. Explain how the interview process works
  4. They agree
  5. Send google doc template
  6. Follow up a few times
  7. Get first draft
  8. Ask them for revisions
  9. Publish the interview

This ends up being a ton of emails, all very similar. Gmail has a really cool feature called Canned Responses where you can save all of your common email templates and use them in your emails with one click.

Oh, and learn Gmail shortcuts - it will save you so much time.

Treat it like a sales pipeline

After I found what works with cold emails, I realized I needed to build a system and keep things organized.

Big thanks to Alex Grossman for pioneering this, but I found Streak, a CRM built on top of Gmail.

Every interview is in a stage, and it looks something like this:


What’s great about this CRM is that it is inside Gmail.

The email threads themselves are leads in your funnel, and it’s easy to get a view of everything, as well as know where any interview stands in the process.

Asking for hard things

One thing that was (and is) much easier said than done was asking for revenue numbers.

Here’s the funny thing - in the very beginning when I had only a couple interviews, I didn’t have revenue numbers for every interview. It was optional.

Before I launched on Product Hunt, I decided I needed to make sure I set a precedent going forward. I kindly went to all my old interviews that didn’t share revenue and asked them nicely. Most of them said yes! Unfortunately, not all of them did, and I had to delete a few interviews off the site :(

Anyways, I’ve had some amazing interview opportunities that I lost because they wouldn’t share revenue. However, I believe that one interview isn’t going to make or break Starter Story.

And I believe sharing revenue is what sets Starter Story apart from other blogs.

Persistent follow-ups

How many people finish my interview template after a couple days? Better question, how many people finish something when they say they will? Very rarely.

This is where I learned about the importance of persistence!

Once someone agrees to the interview I follow up aggressively until they finish it, or they give up.

There is an amazing tool for this called Boomerang. When I have an interview in progress, I have a perpetual Boomerang going on it.

Often, this happens:


That may look like a lot of work, but it isn’t if you use Boomerang, canned responses, and Gmail shortcuts effectively.

Setting deadlines

Here is one thing I wish I did sooner… Set deadlines!

A deadline is like a pretend date that gives who you’re working with some accountability. The date doesn’t really have any importance, but it provides a sense of urgency to get a task done.

I’m still experimenting with how to do this best, but since I’ve implemented using deadlines I’ve noticed better results.


Asking for revisions

If you’ve read my interviews you might have noticed that the quality is good and the answers aren’t your “run of the mill” answers you see on other websites.

Doing the math, on average, each interview is 2,464 words.

But this doesn’t just happen. I put a lot of effort into improving interviews and making them excellent.

This is because I put a ton on of emphasis on quality. I always strive for at least 2,000 words and I’m constantly asking my interviewees to dive deeper and explain more of the “why” on their answers.

And I do this with Google Docs. After I review the first draft, it looks something like this:


Occasionally I get a perfect interview on the first try, but I would say 90% of my Google Docs look something like this after I’ve had an initial read review.

This is a pretty time-consuming process on my end, but I believe it’s 100% worth it. There are a lot of popular interviews on Starter Story that didn’t look so hot on the first draft. And some that went #1 on Hacker News too.

Since my interviewees have already put a good amount of work into the draft, it’s almost never an issue to get them to add more, and I think they appreciate that I do this.

It’s what an editor of any publication should do - strive for great quality.

Systemizing everything I can

Being an engineer, one of my favorite parts of all this is using code to automate a lot of things that can be automated.

Starter Story is built on top of a custom CMS built by me - I’m not using WordPress, it’s built on Ruby on Rails.

Here are some things I’ve built/automated:


Generating new google docs using GDrive API

Every time I create a new lead in my CMS, it auto-generates a gDoc template that I can send to the interviewee.

This saves a ton of time (don’t have to manually copy the doc over and over) and it “ties” the gDoc to the lead in the CMS.


Google Doc -> Markdown conversion.

Since the google doc is tied to the story already, I can just click one button and it converts the doc into markdown and injects it into my CMS.

It’s not perfect, but it’s getting closer to being a “one-click publish”.

This is also what sparked the idea for this website, youdontneedwp.com.


Social media. 

All of my social media is automated. I talk about it a bit more in this Twitter post.

I have robots that post all new interviews to my Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. This saves so much time.



Email people when their post goes live.

Whenever posts go live, I email the interviewee that their post went live. I also automate other stuff like asking them for referrals or having them fill out what tools they use.

There are tons of other things too, like posting to reddit, scheduling posts for the future, and a lot more.

My content calendar for this month


I’m thinking of productizing this

So I’m thinking of building a product that can do a lot of the stuff I mentioned above, like automatic email followups, lead funneling, etc.

It would be useful for people that want to build a similar blog or website, or for someone looking to build a new “interview” content channel for their product.

A great example of doing this successfully is the Shopify Success Stories. They have interviewed over 900 stores.

If you’re interested at all or have some ideas for features email me.

UPDATE: I have decided to build this! If you’re interested in trying it out, you can learn more here.


My approach - the shotgun method

I want to end this blog post to talk about my approach and why I think it’s different than others out there and why I’m seeing success.


Consistent content is my #1 goal.

Consistency is key - always be pushing out content. Take action as quick as possible and always be moving forward. Every blog post is a potential traffic generator, big or small.

Stop caring about “that one big interview”. A small story is better than no story. Momentum is your best friend.

Maybe it’s cold, but I have learned to treat this whole thing like a salesman would. You get leads, you get rejected, but you can always close a small % of the deals.

When I got into my groove a few months in, I had a goal to release 3 pieces of content per week. Now I’m releasing closer to 7 posts per week. I plan to scale up to 10/week and soon after that, 20 pieces of content per week!


Quality is the #2 goal.

Always make sure to have a great interview or blog post.

Here’s my motto on any piece of content:

If it sucks, kill it.

If it’s mediocre, publish it but don’t promote it.

If it’s amazing, share it with the world and give it a lot of attention and love.


Respecting the learning experience

Most importantly, building Starter Story has been an amazing learning experience. And if you plan to build something similar (or build anything), try to treat it like that as well.  

You never know what you might find - product opportunities, business opportunities, friends, a following, who knows!

Building this blog is essentially what sparked my idea for the 24 Hour Startup, and it’s helping build my foundation as a maker and entrepreneur.

--

Thanks for reading - reach out on Twitter if you have any questions or comments!

October 3rd, 2018
his blog post is an archive of this series of tweets that I wrote, so I apologize for spelling errors and strange formatting :)
Starter Story September Results
  • 💵 Revenue: $1,737.84
  • 📈 Uniques: 20,205 (Sept)
  • ✉️ Email Subscribers: 2,956

For all my new followers (will get to that in a sec) I do a revenue & traffic #openstartup report every month for my main side project  http://starterstory.com

I've been working on this project for nearly a full year.

Biggest thing that happened this month was obviously the 24 hour startup!

I won't talk about it too much in this thread, but after that happened everything just blew up. I'm still trying to catch up on everything and keep my head above water.


All of this craziness sparked a big decision for me.

I QUIT MY JOB! 😁😅

I know it sounds kind of crazy to quit your job over that, but as I was heading into my 1:1 with my manager it just felt like I had to do it. It felt like the right thing to do.
I had planned to grow SS for 6 more months and then quit, but then the 24 hour startup happened and it felt like it was the right moment to quit.

I'm moving home for a couple months (holidays) and then:

I'M BECOMING A DIGITAL NOMAD 🏖

First stop: Chiang Mai (I think). I'm so fricken excited to do this. It's been my dream for many years.

My last day at my full time job is this Friday. Then I'm leaving New York City :(

This is the first time post-college that I haven't had a "real" full time job. I'm excited but also nervous about how I will handle it. Sometimes I feel like a full time job keeps me productive.

Re: revenue. This is my biggest month, and it's really exciting. Here's a chart of my revenue over time cc: @GregorySchier :)

Hope this graph shows people that you can struggle hard in the beginning. It's ok if you can't monetize right away. Don't take shortcuts keep pushing!
Search traffic is finally starting to pay off!

I don't do anything "for SEO". The only thing we are focused on is putting out good content that people want to read.

Lately I've been seeing ~300 sessions/day from organic search.
As you might remember, I made an impulsive tweet that I was launching the Starter Story on 9/25.

That date has come and gone and I've decided to wait and more slowly release community features. I don't think the site is big enough to launch a full fledged community yet.

I did add a login/signup though - and the ability to add comments.

I'm excited to build lots of cool features now that I have more time to dedicate to this project. Some ideas:

  • Hacker News esque link board
  • Job board
  • "Launch" your products
  • Starter and business pages
I also got my jimmies rustled after listening to the @IndieHackers podcast with @bendhalpern on how he grew @ThePracticalDev.

They have a really interesting sponsor model, where they have "logos" on their front page.

I want to move to that with @starter_story
This is a great model because it's less focused on CPM and ads, and more focused on "community".

It's also not fun finding a new sponsor every month for a couple hundred dollars.

Another initiative I'm pushing on - getting "tools" and "services" involved with Starter Story.

The ecommerce and CPG industry is an ecosystem of businesses and services. It's important to involve both sides of the coin and bring them together.

I implemented a "content calendar".

Allows me to queue up content so that I can put content on autopilot while I work on other parts of the business.

It's part of the reason I did the 24hr startup. I had content ready to go for about 2 weeks.

Shoutout @WalterDom_ for idea
Did some cool stuff with affiliate links too. It's always a pain to update my Shopify and Amazon affiliate links for every post.

I wrote a script that automatically adds my affiliate tag to all Shopify and Amazon links. Saves a bunch of time!
I also made an automated Twitter bot for posting quotes from my article.

Every day, it searches all of my articles and finds a quote, then posts it to Twitter. It's a nice way to add a little bit more engagement.
Finally, after a lot of "good" things, I want to talk about motivation issues and mood.

First half of the month was horrible.

I was super down, couldn't find motivation and was very unproductive.

I was trying a lot of things - new wakeup early commitments, tried to get into journaling, nothing really working.

One thing that really kept my going was my running (I'm doing 100 days in a row). That sparked the 24hr startup idea!

After the 24hr startup I got a lot more motivated :)

Oh - and one more thing - Twitter addiction is real! - I can't stop checking it after my timeline blew up. I need to figure this out - any ideas?

THANKS FOR READING! And drop any questions/comments you have :)

September 4th, 2018
This blog post is an archive of this series of tweets that I wrote, so I apologize for spelling errors and strange formatting :)
Starter Story August Results
  • 💵 Revenue: $1,120.12
  • 📈 Uniques: 15,175 (August)
  • ✉️ Email Subscribers: 2,710

Woah 😲 I hit the $1k mark in monthly revenue.

I can't really believe it - it feels sorta surreal. I remember getting excited about $3 in Amazon affiliate revenue just a few months ago.

In April, I thought about quitting the project.

I was barely making any money and I was bored.

I even started working on another project.

You just have to keep putting a little bit of work in each day, and you hit these small milestones that keep you going - like an email from a fan or a HN post going viral.

One thing that has really kept me going is establishing a morning routine.

Been waking up early over the past few months, but over time I was getting up later and later.

Before I knew it, I was snoozing for like an hour and half.

So in the beginning of the month, I made it a point to wake up every day at 530AM, no excuses. I kept my phone across the room so I couldn't snooze it.

I even started running right in the morning as well.

Never have I been a morning person before…

Another big milestone, I hired someone!

I finally executed on this after meeting up with @FelixThea, the host of The Shopify Masters podcast.

He told me you have to hire someone, and to stop thinking you are the only one that can do certain tasks.

So I went on Upwork - terrible experience.

So, I just asked for help - I posted on Twitter and in my email newsletter that I was looking for help.

Such a good decision.

I got dozens of responses from fans and followers - people that really want to be a part of this!

I ended up hiring @WalterDom_ and he's been working with me for the past few weeks.

He's based out of Mexico City and has been helping me with email and publishing articles.

It's so nice having someone else helping out - thank you Walter.

I've also been running every single day. It's been 45 days.

When I run, I think about stuff, esp @starter_story - it motivates me.

I've also seen @CaseyNeistat 3 times now - yes Casey that was me who awkwardly waved at you this morning.


https://twitter.com/thepatwalls/status/1024005784693288960

I also took a ton of time off this month. I traveled through Massachusetts on a road trip with my dad, and just had a long weekend with friends in Austin.

This was prob the first time I've taken time off for @starter_story, it was really hard to not look at email

Traffic for Starter Story was low this month - this is because we didn't have any huge stories on Hacker News or reddit.

It sucks not to get that adrenaline boost, but it will happen eventually :)

One cool thing is organic search traffic is starting to pick up!
This next month, I will be building the @starter_story community.

I'm super excited, but also nervous.

It's going to be a big challenge.

https://twitter.com/thepatwalls/status/1034051367818674176

Lastly, I want to thank my sponsors for helping my get to the $1k mark!

@klaviyo @BitBond @GetOkendo thank you for your support!

Thanks for reading and excited for the next month.