April 15th, 2021
Here are the books I read during my two month Twitter hiatus:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is really no downside to caching, other than the risk of showing something outdated if you don't cache in the right way.

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

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

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

--

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Independent!

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

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

So I’m back to writing every day. 

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

April 8th, 2021
I just ran a query on the Starter Story database to see how many different countries we've featured businesses in.

51!

Here's the full list:

Andorra, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Belgium, Belize, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russian Federation, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Province of China, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, United States Minor Outlying Islands, Vanuatu

Blows my mind!
April 7th, 2021
First of all, sorry for missing last month’s report! To be brutally honest, I procrastinated it because February was the first month we didn’t grow at least 15% month over month since last June! Traffic only grew 2%, and other metrics like revenue were down, unfortunately.

I’ve had some time to sit with that and reminded myself this: things are not always going to grow massively month over month. 

It’s important to look at the bigger picture. If we zoom out and look at year-over-year growth, February was up +525% in traffic, and revenue up +220%.

A less than expected month should never stop me from sharing, though. And I give you the promise that I won’t miss another month this year.

Now that’s out of the way, let’s talk about March 2021:

  • Revenue: $21,951 (-5% MoM)
  • Uniques (GA): 592K (+14% MoM)
  • Visitors (SA): 898K (+3% MoM)
  • Pageviews (SA): 1.3M (+8% MoM) 
  • Newsletter: 69.5K Total (+9.9K) (+18% MoM)

Traffic

March 2021 is the biggest month we’ve ever had in traffic, although our month-over-month growth is not as impressive as it has been in the last 8 months.

I wish I could give a great answer as to why we didn't grow 15%+, but the truth is I’m not exactly sure.

Over the past few months, we captured an amazing opportunity with our Lean SEO strategy, but to continue to grow, we’ll need to keep making changes and adjustments to that strategy.

In other words, we learned what it takes to go from 100K -> 1M per month, now we’ll learn what it takes to go from 1M -> 10M per month. I don’t have the answers to that right now. All we can do is focus and learn and experiment. Our goal is still to hit 5M by the end of the year.

Revenue

On the monetization side, revenue and new paid memberships has been slowing. 

I think this is a bit natural as January and the preceding months were so big for us, plus we had a lot of attention from Lean SEO


More people are presumably starting a business in January than they are in February and March, and maybe that is just part of the natural cycle?

One of my goals this month is to look closer at conversions and understand this a bit more. More to come next month.

Newsletter

Our newsletter is getting very big now (70K) and we’ve brought someone on part-time to focus on it. 

David Bustos, from Spain (who’s been with us from the beginning), will now lead up the weekly newsletter and give it the focus and attention it deserves.

At the current pace, our newsletter would grow 10k per month. So by the end of the year, we’ll effectively be at 150K (and that’s if we didn’t grow at all).

It’s important that we spend a lot of time delivering a super high-quality newsletter with a lot of value. I couldn't do that on my own anymore!

Growth Ideas Database

Over the past month, Sam has been working on launching the Starter Story Growth Database - a collection of 200+ proven ways to grow your business.

The goal for this is two-fold (1) to have another staple for our premium membership and (2) to add 200+ pieces of content to the blog. 

Eventually, this database will grow to 1,000+ ways to grow your business, and further, 1,000+ pieces of content around marketing.

We are running launch tests on it right now - we’ll officially launch this in the next couple weeks.


Business Idea Profiles

In addition to our database of almost 4,000 business ideas, we are launching individualized pages for business ideas.

Want to start a subscription box business? We put all of the data here for you, including startup costs, case studies, pros and cons, ways to grow, etc.


We are doing a lot behind the scenes to fill out these pages. Over time, we’ll continue to add more data and “sub-pages” for each business idea.

It’s very early days for this feature, but below is a look at daily traffic over the last 3 months to these pages, it’s growing!


Scaling Our Freelancer Efforts

One of the tenets of Starter Story is our focus on software. On paper, we are a media company, but at our core, we are a software company - with a laser focus on data, process, and automation.

By leaning on data and software, we can stay lean as a team (and keep costs low). Right now, we are just about 5 team members working full-time.

But behind the scenes, there are dozens of people working on Starter Story, whether it’s freelancers or even our users helping us generate content.

I’ve been building a new backend/system that these freelancers use to get work done. 

It allows us to assign work to freelancers, and review their work quickly. Additionally, we can track the amount of time that tasks take, as well as costs to complete projects.

It’s still very early days, but this is the future of scaling our content efforts. The possibilities here blow my mind. More to come next month.


The Business Wikipedia

We are heads down working on a public-facing “wiki” on Starter Story.

What’s a wiki? A wiki is a database/content that anyone can edit.

We’re going to build the Wikipedia for entrepreneurs / the Wikipedia for businesses. This has always been the plan for Starter Story long-term, and now we’re finally getting started...

More on this next month.

Thanks for reading! 
March 9th, 2021
I’ve been off social media for almost a month now. It feels nice. It feels blissful. 

I said I would end my social media hiatus at the end of March, but I think I will go longer. Going back to Twitter doesn’t sound interesting at all. Honest.

There are probably a lot of “things” that have happened in the media or in startup communities that I’ve missed... 

Even though I’m off social media I’ll still see or hear about them, but they’re never interesting enough to hold my attention for long. 

BUT they would hold my attention before. What’s up with that? 

The problem was the social media algorithm would keep feeding it to me. Feeding new details and updates about XYZ developing stories, and like a morphine patient, I’d keep hitting the button over and over for the next hit.

It is a god damn blessing to be out of that right now.

An interesting development: I stopped writing every day on the blog here. 

Sometimes I’ll stop writing because I’m in a “funk”. But that’s not the case here.

Right now, I just don’t really feel like writing on here. I don’t have much to say. And I don’t feel guilty or compelled to keep it updated, like I used to.

Maybe that’s because I’m not on social media. Maybe social media convinced me and kept me accountable to that unwritten commitment: Write every day. Tweet every day. Answer every email. Do this. Do that. Do everything, today.

I’m still writing every day, just not on here. I’m writing for my business: memos, project plans, ideas, guides, strategies, implementation, code, etc.

The bigger theme is I’m more focused on my business than my personal following. And I really like it that way. 

If someone hears about Starter Story, and they don’t hear about me - that’s a beautiful thing. 

A successful business and a successful personal following: I’m not sure you can have both and be healthy and happy. Pick one.

I’ll keep writing though, just not every day on here.

I want to write when I really have something to say. That can only come with time, experience, and staying off social media.

I’m not sure I’ll go back to Twitter at all. Twitter is just ego, and I don’t want to be that.
February 27th, 2021
The culture around "breaking into tech" is gross.

It's basically the same thing as: 

  • "getting into Ivy league"
  • "getting into investment banking"
  • "getting into XYZ EPIC company"

"Here's how I hacked my way into Google"

I've been there. I wanted a job in tech so bad and I jumped through all of the hoops to get it. But when I got there, I realized it wasn't what I wanted at all.

At the end of the day, working at all these companies is the same. You do emails, Zoom meetings, write some code and have some boss that tells you what to work on.

Why do people glorify working a desk job? I just can't get behind that.
February 26th, 2021
At the end of the day, I'll always have more respect for the business builder than the investor or critic, even if the business builder did something wrong or had a misstep.

It's so much easier to criticize the business builder because they have to make so many decisions and put themselves in the arena every day. One the flip side, the investor and the critic don't really have to make too many hard decisions.
February 24th, 2021
The core of an entrepreneur: Someone who sees hard problems not as obstacles, but as opportunities.

An entrepreneur understands there is an opportunity in hard problems because of their hardness. He/she knows most people will not try to solve them, and therefore lies the challenge, and the potential payoff.
February 24th, 2021
Currently reading: Sam Walton: Made In America

Lots to unpack from this book, but one thing that I quite like...

In the super early days of his business, out of necessity, Sam bought a small airplane and became a pilot so he could save money and get things done faster. It allowed him to go wherever he wanted, whenever he wanted. 

He credits much of the success of Wal-Mart to that airplane. It allowed them to expand to multiple regions in a time before computers, as he could be in many places at once.

When COVID is over, I want to get back to traveling within the US. Even if it's going somewhere for a day, why not?
February 24th, 2021
Home Depot founder Bernard Marcus recalls:

“If you ask Sam how’s business, he’s never satisfied. He says, ‘Bernie, things are really lousy. Our lines are too long at the cash registers. Our people aren’t being helpful enough. I don’t know what we’re gonna do to get them motivated.’ 

Then you ask some of these CEOs from other retail organizations who you know are on the verge of going out of business, and they brag and tell you how great everything is. Really putting on airs. Not Sam. He is down to earth and knows who he is.”
February 24th, 2021
Some motivation: Business Insider was acquired by Axel Springer for $442M on Sep 29, 2015.
February 23rd, 2021
Getting closer to getting my investments sorted. Been doing a lot of research and learning.

This whole thing was sparked by the following:

  • I want to spend less time checking stock prices and following the markets
  • I should be more diversified
  • My time and energy is better spent on my own business
  • I’m a business builder, not an investor. Pick one...
  • I think there will be a market correction/bubble soon. I don’t want that stress. And I’m happy with the gains I’ve had.

Ideal Allocation:

Here’s the ballpark allocation I’d like to have:

  • 67% in diversified ETFs
  • 33% in individual stocks & Bitcoin
  • +6 months emergency fund

Why still invest in individual stocks? I don’t want to sell my Bitcoin and I also like the idea of keeping a smaller amount invested into a couple of companies that I really believe in. 

I just finished the Amazon book and remembered why I want to hold my Amazon stock. Or, for example, when Stripe goes public. I want to own shares of their company.

Reallocation

The first step is the reallocation of funds. I have too much money in individual equities right now, and too little in ETFs. 

BUT I don’t want to transfer it all at once. 

The best thing (mainly for my sanity) is to DCA the money from the equities to the ETFs over the next year. 

I’ve set up an automated transfer to do this monthly until the end of the year, at which point I will be “rebalanced”.

ETFs

The other big question I had was “what ETFs do I invest in?” 

I couldn’t really find a good answer to that. My whole goal is to not have to spend time researching stocks, but wouldn’t I have to spend time researching and constantly analyzing ETFs?

Through ETFs, I wanted to invest in value stocks and emerging markets.

The answer was right in front of me: use the robo advisor! I already had one set up! 

This does a good job of investing in international stocks, value stocks, bonds, etc. It’s probably not 100% optimized, but historically it’s done a pretty good job against Vanguard

It also has tax-loss harvesting, something I could not really do on my own.

Going forward

What about future investments? I like to put away money on a set schedule. Been doing that since my business has had consistent profits.

I’ll invest $X/week, with 65% going into ETFs, 25% going into individual stocks, and 10% going into Bitcoin. It’s all set up, automatic.
February 22nd, 2021
Even though I’m on a social media hiatus, I still check the price of Bitcoin and some stock prices through Google search. I can’t help myself.

This prompts some articles that appear to be “newsworthy”. 

But looking closer, they are just headlines like:

  • Bitcoin drops 10%
  • Bitcoin drops after Elon Musk comment
  • Here’s what [insert_notable_investor] has to say about Bitcoin

These are not news. Zoom out a few months, and nothing. You’d never remember it! 

Just infotainment.

Something I’ve been thinking about: intentional learning. What do I want to learn about? What do I want to consume?

Instead of being fed things by an algorithm, it’s very powerful to say “I want to learn something” and go out and learn it in a deliberate manner.

I’m afraid that most people don’t really do this anymore.

This is why I blocked cookies on youtube.com. YouTube is a wonderful resource, but its recommendation algorithm is toxic.

It only recommends you stuff to watch that are in your “comfort zone”. You watch the same stuff over and over.

Last year I followed the Astros’ cheating scandal a lot. Partly because the YouTube algorithm would continuously recommend me videos on that topic. I was addicted to the content for weeks, if not months.

And most of that content was just forgettable “news”, like the Bitcoin news I mentioned above. Just some small new detail that emerged that could be spun into a news story.

I wasted so much time on those videos.

I think it’s better to “go looking” deliberately for things. I think that might be the key to success. Because, really, that’s just being curious, and curiosity is the best predictor for success.

A business idea won’t come to you. You must go looking.

Good friends and attractive members of the opposite sex won’t magically come to you. You must go looking.

Happiness won’t come to you. You must go searching.

We are not proactive enough anymore. We all scroll mindlessly through our feeds and hope that breakthroughs will appear. But they never do. 

When, really, the most interesting and fun parts of life come when you break out of the cycle and do something new and original.
February 20th, 2021
Just finished the Bezos book, love this quote:

Friends congratulate me after a quarterly-earnings announcement and say, 'Good job, great quarter,” he says.

“And I'll say, 'Thank you, but that quarter was baked three years ago.' I'm working on a quarter that'll happen in 2021 right now.”

This book is an absolute must-read. It is no frills, no bullshit. Just great insights from building Amazon for 20+ years.
February 20th, 2021
I started my social media hiatus a few days ago, something interesting I noticed: 

In 2019, I also quit social media for a month. It was May 2019. If I think back, May was actually the most memorable month of 2019.

And by “memorable”, I mean: I can actually remember it

I remember where I was, the books I read, the places I ran, the work I did, the restaurants I ate at, etc. 

I specifically remember listening to Ray Dalio’s Principles on Audible while walking around the Hoàn Kiếm Lake in Hanoi Vietnam. I remember the cadence and sound of Ray’s voice. I remember it so well.

If I think about other months in 2019, they’re less memorable than May. Sure, I remember things, but I couldn’t describe June, August, or September with the same detail.

It’s good to change things up in my daily life. My months should be more memorable.