When Lambda School had their little fiasco, part of me believed this happened because people didn't like the founder on a personal level.
Why? Because his Twitter timeline made his coding bootcamp seem like the second coming of Christ. This definitely got under some people's skin.
I have a hunch that the people who wrote those Lambda School hit-pieces really just had a bone to pick with the founder.
Back when this was going down, I was chatting with some other founders about this and wanted to prove my point (that he had it coming) - but they had a better point, which was something along the lines of:
"To change an industry you kind of have to be 'that guy'. As founders we know what it's like - how hard it is to run a company, and command an ambitious vision like this. To criticize him for this makes us just as bad as a gossip rag or a Twitter troll."
This hit me like a ton of bricks.
I was contributing to cancel culture, just because I didn't like the way this dude went about his business.
Why should I give a fuck about some dude I don't know? Letting them live rent-free in my head.. He has no idea who I am.
It's none of my business, and it's not worth my time to even think about.
Most of us have people we don't like - that person who bothers you at work, that politician who pisses you off, etc.
If you don't like someone - that means that you probably actually care about them, or you care about what they think of you.
If you didn't care about them, then you would be indifferent, and their actions and words wouldn't even cross your mind or trigger you.
So, likely, I actually care about Austen. He's building a great company. Maybe it's some jealousy on my end.
I think a lot of people were jealous of his success and how great of a marketer he is, which is actually what caused that whole fiasco.
But to build a great company - one that changes the world - there will be controversies and scandals.
To be a founder of a company that changes the world, you really have to be 'that guy'.
Right when the first protests and riots were happening (maybe 10 days ago), I found myself glued to the TV, glued to Instagram, and glued to Twitter.
Checking and refreshing for the latest news-bites and feelings of "what is happening in our world right now" but also, "I can't look away".
A few days passed and I kept doing the same thing - wanting more "news" and more drama.
But, nothing was really changing - just more of the same, regurgitated news and social media.
But I wanted more. I felt gross.
I decided it was time to take a break from social media.
I logged out of Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.
I go on those sites and never feel fulfilled. I feel animosity and judgment towards the people in my feeds. I don't enjoy it, yet I keep going back.
I'm tired of watching TikToks, seeing Instagram posts with cringey taglines, or 140 characters of false wisdom.
I decided I want to read more. I want to be a "reader".
I want to read classic fiction from 1920, not quasi-intellectual motivational tweets from 2020.
I want to think more about the meaning of life from philosophers centuries ago, not from Joe Shmoe Motivational YouTuber.
I went to the bookstore the next day.
I picked up Brave New World by Aldous Huxley - a classic novel.
I read it in 3 days.
This was the first real physical book I finished in years. I've listened to lots of audiobooks, some Kindle reads, but this was the first physical book I read cover to cover in as long as I can remember (fucking sad, right!?).
I got "lost" in this book. It took me to a new world, a fantasy "dystopian" world that was so interesting to be in.
I forgot that books can do this.
No other medium can do this. TikTok definitely can't.
I'm vowing to read more.
It's not about reading the "classics" or the best self-help books.
Reading is about introspection, finding yourself, and it is a form of meditation. It doesn't matter what you read, just that you're reading something, consistently.
After finishing Brave New World I went back to the bookstore, but this time I spent almost an hour there, looking for a book.
I didn't go online for recommendations and I didn't care to look at Amazon reviews.
I just picked books off the shelf until I found one that looked cool. It's called "The Dog Stars".
Now I'm almost done with that one.
How much time did you spend on social media today? 30 minutes?
Imagine if you spent that time reading?
If you did read a book for 30 minutes a day for the rest of your life, you could read 1,000 books in your lifetime. Imagine that!
I know we are all busy, but 30 minutes is doable.
On the subway? In a cab? Eating breakfast? Driving to work? Let's fill the time with books, not checking our phones.
One thing that I always think about is how most startups eventually become "classic" companies solving "classic" problems.
For example, Netflix.
Netflix is really just a premium cable channel, like HBO.
While Netflix obviously revolutionized on-demand content, nowadays most "mainstream" people consume Netflix through their smart TV - which isn't really much different than how we've been watching TV for decades.
And the value in Netflix is more and more its content, the premium shows like "Stranger Things" - which is really the same thing that HBO has been doing for years.
There are more examples too:
Square is really just a bank.
Uber is just taxis with an app
Twitter, FB, YouTube, TikTok are all just (far more engaging) media companies. They are like cable in the 50's and 60's.
Airbnb is just a booking engine, like Expedia
Often, startups will start with some "revolutionary" idea, leverage technology, and then eventually adopt a really common business model over the life of the company.
This makes me think about a couple things:
The best business models have been around for decades, if not centuries (food, sex, status, fitness, travel, health, etc)
You just need to solve "classic problems" in a new way / better way to be a startup
A startups value is its ability to capture and take over existing markets eventually
In order to get "really big", all startup companies will have to eventually adjust their business models/audience to be more traditional and mainstream
Often, I'll see someone who has become rather successful at 24 years old (an example).
Or at least, more "successful" than me (in my eyes).
I wonder how it is they got to that level faster than I could?
Did they learn quicker? Did they start earlier? Are they smarter? Worked harder? Did they know what they wanted earlier in life? Did they have better mentors? Did they have some sort of advantage? Luck?
Ok, let's get the cliches out of the way: "comparison is the thief of joy", yada yadda...
Many people I know go through life (and jobs) with some level of expectation of success and improvement. We all graduate high school at the same time. We all graduate college at the same time. Then become doctors, lawyers based on the timetable that society has decided - or traditional workplaces promote us at a predictable rate (manager, director, etc).
But for entrepreneurs, artists, writers, politicians - most of those "expectations" go out the window.
Through this crazy thing called the internet, I know of 16-year-olds who are building profitable businesses, 19-year-old YouTubers with millions of followers, etc.
I think as we get older we start to notice age more.
I remember as a kid when I used to watch professional sports on TV and my dad would always comment: "What! This guy was born in 1980! I can't believe that!!".
I'm starting to become that guy. One of my favorite artists is Travis Scott. I looked up his age the other day, and what!? This guy is actually younger than me? It feels so strange to look up to someone for years who's been younger than me?
It's funny, though, because I've also experienced the opposite of this.
When I was 19, I worked at the Apple Store. I got promoted quickly and was able to go to this all-expenses-paid trip with other Apple Store employees across the country who also just got the same promotion.
I was the youngest person there, by at least two years, with many people in the training likely at least 24 years old.
Since everyone was strangers and living in a hotel with $100 per-diems - we quickly started to make friends.
When we went out to dinner, they found out I was 19, and everything changed.
The group I made friends with started forming a clique, and started ganging up on me. They emailed Apple corporate relations and got my rental car revoked - because of some fine print of the contract that I was too young to have a rental car.
They got my rental car revoked because they wanted it for themselves, and when they got the car, they threw my shit all over the parking lot.
It really hurt my feelings.
That training was three weeks long - and all I wanted was for it to be over.
I remember getting back from the training, and hanging out with my "real" friends - wow that was such a relief.
All the resentment and angst I had was gone in a second, remembering that we get to choose our friends - and I would never surround myself with people that judged me because of my age.
And it's funny - because one of my best friends at the time was 24. But he's a great dude, and my age or his age didn't matter for our friendship.
Age doesn't matter. Everyone has a journey.
I've been early to some things, and I've been late to others. I will assume the same in others.
A few years ago, I took a personality test, and landed on Virtuoso.
It makes perfect sense - a virtuoso starts many things, likes to get their hands dirty, jumps from project to project, and are often mechanics and engineers.
Virtuosos are really uncommon - apparently only making up only 5% of the population.
Growing up, and compared to my colleagues and friends, I’ve always been different. My friends would often comment (and still do) how weird it is that I try so many things, or how comfortable I am spending time by myself.
It wasn't until after I took this personality test that a lot of things clicked for me.
I started to embrace my "differences" more - and turned to the internet and found communities of other “virtuosos”. I found a lot of people like me condensed into communities like Twitter, WIP, digital nomads, etc. (that's one beauty of the internet)
I take pride in being a virtuoso - it has given me identity and confidence about my unusual path that I’m taking.
In my post “A Lot About A Little” - I didn’t mean to say that we shouldn’t start and try new things - it’s just something that I (personally) want to be more mindful of.
Although I embrace my personality and will always be true to myself, there are a couple things we (virtuosos) need to weary of:
Starting new things as an escape
Being a "master of none"
Starting new things as an escape
Starting new things and learning new skills is the beauty of life.
But there is a caveat - starting new things is often an escape from something "old and boring" in our current lives.
It can be an escape from relationships. It can be an escape from commitment. It can be an escape from career. It can be an escape from family.
In other words, be careful that you’re not starting something because you’re running away from something else.
Six years ago, I broke up with my long-term girlfriend. Looking back, part of the reason I broke up with her is that I was so excited about starting some new things in my life. I justified the heartache of the breakup with the "rush" of starting anew.
It was the time where I was switching my career to coding. I was so excited about this new career and starting something new, that I put all of my identity and happiness into it.
Although learning how to code and changing my career was a great decision, looking back, this sacrifice I made in my personal and family life was immature and it makes me cringe.
But, of course:
If you don't look back on your past self and cringe, then you didn't grow as a person.
When starting new things, make sure you are doing them for the right reasons, and understand the inevitable sacrifice that comes with them.
Being a "master of none"
Starting new things feels good. We feel accomplished.
But it’s important to look at all of the things you have started. Do you really, honestly, know much about those things?
I would argue no. You haven’t spent enough time on them. You haven’t been in the trenches, working on it and thinking about it 80 hours per week for 10+ years.
If you think you know “a lot about a lot”, then you might be subject to the Dunning-Kruger effect - where you actually don’t know “a lot” about anything, but you don’t even know it!
A little about a lot
Here’s where I know “a little about a lot”:
Economics (majored in college)
Accounting (was a career for a couple years)
Coding (software engineer for 2 years)
Writing (I write daily)
Making music (was in a band in high school)
Running (ran 3 marathons)
My argument is not that these things haven’t made my life richer, or contributed to a greater overall result, but I actually know NOTHING about these things, and that's the beauty.
I actively spend a lot of time on some of these things, and I do love some of these things, like writing and running - and I won't stop learning new things too.
A lot about a little
Here’s where I'd like to know “a lot about a little”:
Starting and building businesses (Failed at 6+, done it for 5+ years)
Building businesses is where I’ve spent the most time on over the past 10 years.
When I first got into entrepreneurship (first 1-2 years), I thought I knew it all. I had confidence - I watched the YC videos, read the business books, and renowned blog posts.
Looking back, I was damn stupid and overconfident!
It was only until I got 3-5 years in (and 15,000+ hours later) where I’ve started to realize that I actually know nothing. The deeper I go, the more I realize this.
Most importantly, it’s humbling. If I never reached this point, then maybe I'd still think I knew a lot about running, or writing, etc. (overconfidence)
As far as entrepreneurship, I think I’m somewhere in the middle of the x-axis of the Dunning-Kruger graph.
Now that I have some self-awareness about what I don’t know, I realize how superficial my knowledge is about pretty much anything.
Nowadays, some people ask me for advice about starting a business. When I get on the phone with them and hear about their idea or their approach, I'm reminded of myself when I started my first business: blind with confidence, stubborn, and likely to make the same mistakes most entrepreneurs make on their first go-around.
It is the Dunning-Kruger effect in action - they haven’t worked enough at it to even know what they don’t know. It doesn’t matter the advice I give, or the blog posts that they read - the only way to realize you don’t know what you don’t know is to put in thousands of hours into something and finally have that feeling - that you don’t know what you don’t know.
Most people never experience this, hence why we see the endless Facebook and Reddit threads of people that spouting their ideas and who truly believe they know what they are talking about, usually about politics. Likely, these people didn’t spend years as a politician or historian.
They are also likely the victim of starting too many things, having their hand in too many cookie jars, and the Dunning-Kruger effect.
Hell, this blog post is the same issue! I don’t know much about human psychology, I just watched a couple YouTube videos on Dunning-Kruger ;)
But that’s OK, this is just a journal and I just my ideas for the day - 99% chance I’m wrong about all of this.
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Every single day I have to forcefully resist myself from starting new things.
For example, this weekend I thought I would become a music producer, downloaded Ableton, and starting following YouTube tutorials.
That lasted about 45 minutes.
My whole life has consisted of trying new things, whether it was my career, hobbies, new diets, hairstyles, etc.
But I'm getting better.
I think I know now, that if I keep trying new things every year, my life will be shallow. I will know a little about a lot.
I want to know a lot about a little.
Why? I think it would lead to more happiness, more stability, and more success in our lives.
But it's never that easy.
One issue I've always had with "a lot about a little" is that I'm scared to have an identity or a "thing" that I'll have to live with forever.
For example, when we think of Tiger Woods, we think "golfer" - that's his "thing".
What's my "thing"?
I like to think of myself as a multi-faceted individual - I have many interests, hobbies, and professions. But so does Tiger Woods!! We just think of him as a golfer though.
I wish we didn't have to be known for one "thing" - why can't we be known for all the things?
I think that is some sort of fallacy (Wikipedia?).
Because likely, everyone already sees me as one "thing" - I'm not sure what that "thing" is because it's not even in my control (what others think of me). Maybe it's "dude with bad posture in coffee shop" or "John's random friend"...
Back to the topic though - when do we accept that we can only be great at one thing?
I don't know if I've accepted it yet, or if I ever will. I don't think I have that kind of conviction.
And I doubt I'm the only one that feels this way. If everyone knew their one "thing" - this world would be a much different place.
(This is an excerpt of a monthly email I send - a monthly review/retro of how we did for May 2020. I send this to stakeholders, friends & colleagues to keep you updated, and also so I can stay accountable!)
I took 10 days off this month.
I’m not totally sure what happened, but I think it was burnout. I was stressed, unmotivated, and had an overall feeling of indifference.
These 10 days off were the best thing I could have done, and I’m so happy I did it - it gave me time to think, reflect, and recharge.
But most importantly it gave me insights into a huge mistake I’m making. The mistake: I’m not focusing on the business opportunity that is clearly working - Starter Story.
Years ago (before Starter Story), my dream was to build a SaaS business - which is what attracted me to building this new product Pigeon over the last year.
But the writing is on the wall - Starter Story is the better business. I’ve realized it’s where I need to put all of my energy. Over the last year, I’ve been splitting my time across both projects, putting crazy hard work into Pigeon and seeing menial results, and putting in less mindshare into Starter Story yet seeing really great results!
Over the past months we have been testing out some more monetization at Starter Story, and I’m excited to say that we generated nearly $6,000 additional gross revenue in May through premium content + testing some minor tweaks to the site. Big thanks to the team for all their hard work to make this happen!
I got wind of these numbers during my 10 days off, and it got me thinking even more. Starter Story is such a huge opportunity with so much more room to grow and become a bigger business.
But it’s been tough / taken me some time to actualize this. I often saw Starter Story as my own “starter” business and thought it would lead me to some bigger opportunity… but in reality Starter Story is the greatest opportunity! I just need to look at it that way.
Here’s a theory I’ve been developing: Starting a business is not about “you”. In the beginning, it often is about “you”, because you want freedom, money, and status - but that eventually wears off and then you’re building and growing a real business - in which long-term success has little to do with “you”.
It shouldn't be about building the business idea around what I want, it’s about building the business that the market wants. I don’t think it’s wrong or bad to build a business you want, but my theory is that the duty of the entrepreneur to have a firm vision but be flexible and compromising in the implementation of that vision.
My vision has always been to inspire entrepreneurs and help them run and grow their businesses. Time to focus on the most efficient ways of doing that.
In other words, I wasn’t being self-aware. I became too hard-headed and attached to the idea of building an app/SaaS because it’s what I wanted to do. But it’s not about me!
So, for the foreseeable future, we’ll be putting all of our energies into Starter Story and I’m really excited about the future! Starter Story is only going to grow faster now!!
In June, we will focus on content - delivering more higher quality and diverse content for entrepreneurs and small businesses.
We are trying to figure out more about what readers want - and one of those things is definitely “business ideas”. We believe readers really want content that helps them find a business idea - we’ve been experimenting with articles like this (performed very well).
So this month we will continue to experiment with more content and projects around “business ideas” - such as (1) research-focused articles “this new industry trend is about to explode” (2) small business idea database “find your next idea” and (3) business idea how-to guides - all with lots of data and a more analytical approach than other publications.
With my newfound time & energy, I’ll also be writing a lot more and contributing to this growth in content too!
Our other big goal is focusing more on email marketing, mainly (1) higher quality newsletters (2) collecting more emails (3) nurturing sequences (4) targeted/personalized emails and trigger-based emails and (5) sending limited-time offers to buy the subscription.
1. Pieces of content published: 150 2. Email collection rate: 10% 3. Subscription impressions: 20% 4. New customers: 2% (as % of subscription impressions)