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)
The first couple days were weird, had a lot of anxiety and wondering what I'm doing with my life.
After 3 days in, I had a lot of "aha" moments. Fueled with energy and excitement about the future.
Now, I've hit a bit of a downturn. A lot of boredom, not so much energy, and a bit of sadness.
When I started this, I wanted to read 1000 books and watch classic movies. But what I usually do is watch YouTube and Netflix and sneak in some Twitter.
I wish I was the type of person that could get "lost in books", but I can't.
The important thing though, I am not doing any work, and I am not checking email, at all.
I haven't pushed any code, or looked at my codebase for over a week now, other than to fix one super urgent bug that a paying customer had.
I thought about checking my email this morning, but decided against it.
I know I have some stuff in there that will feel really urgent and stressful.
I have some things in place so that if there is something super-crazy urgent, I will be notified and I can take action.
When I checked my email on Tuesday, it turned into an extra 1.5 hours of work.
Now that I'm in the boredom stage of my think week, I'm antsy to get back. But a part of this feels like I'm not ready yet, like, I don't feel like I really know what I'll work on when I get back.
One thing I do is create "master plans" - for this think week, I'm making a concerted effort NOT to make a "master plan" for when I get back.
These "master plans" never work because they are rooted in hypotheticals and things you might be influenced by in books/podcasts/what you heard from someone else. Right now, I'm driving around the United States - any plan/ideas that I come up with are probably not going to work.
The only thing that is going to work is if I can come back to work with a new mindset and way of thinking that I didn't have before - a new way to approach every day that helps work become more exciting and where I can get out of bed in the morning feeling like I did in the early days of starting my own side project. I miss that.
Change is the only constant. I have to change myself, my outlook, my ideas, etc if I want to move forward faster and with more excitement.
Sitting around and doing "more of the same" does not invoke change and it does not lead to happiness for me.
If there's one thing that is true about the last 29 years of my life - it's that I've constantly changed and adapted for the better.
When challenges were presented to me, I rose to the challenge - this always led to overall happiness and fulfillment.
There are other times when I didn't rise to the challenge - and I regret those moments. I only regret them because, eventually, I rose to the challenge, but it took longer.
Because, for me, I'm the type of person that eventually has to get over those challenges - I can't live with myself if I don't.
The part that I struggle with is when it takes weeks/months/years/decades to actually accomplish these things, when I know it could have been shorter.
I'm reading a book right now about startups. One of the main themes is that failing at a startup should not be about the learning experience.
The more important thing is to have those learning experiences happen at the fastest velocity possible.
So, in other words, fail fast. Ask yourself how you can fail as fast as possible. Look deeper into why it's taking 6 months / 1 year / 3 years to fail at one idea, when you could fail at 10 ideas in that same time frame.
Because anything else is just wasted time. We can make the excuses that "we learned something" and that makes us feel like "we're OK with failure" which is, definitely, a good thing and par for the course on your first startup try.
But failing like that is "failing blindly" - if someone asks you why you failed, your answer will be rooted in hypotheticals and blurry logic. There are ways to fail faster with clear understanding (based on numbers, talking to real people, etc) - and I think the hurdle between failing blindly and this is our ego and our fear of failure.
One thing that's holding me back is my stubbornness and my unwillingness to "compromise my vision".
Maybe other entrepreneurs can relate to this, but I'm afraid that changes I make to my product / strategy / customers will lead me to build something that strays far away from my "vision".
I'm scared of that because I don't want to build a business that I "hate".
I'm scared of becoming that founder who's (years later) depressed, and slogging away at a business that he/she never intended to build.
So, to prevent that, I think I take actions (or inaction) that negatively impact the success of my business as a potential sacrifice for my happiness later.
I think that, in a lot of ways, this is a good thing. All founders must make sacrifices like this.
But I think this logic is flawed.
The worry should never be about the "vision" - because the "vision" has nothing to do with the implementation.
If your vision is to revolutionize the hotel industry, then don't worry about how you will do that. You might have an idea, but is it good? You can't decide that. Only the market can.
Test that idea, and then change it - test more ideas. You're still following your "vision" of revolutionizing the hotel industry, but you're just finding a better way to do it.
As I learn more about being an entrepreneur, I think a lot about this.
When I look back on some of the reasons why I wanted to start my own business:
- to build cool things, - to create something out of nothing, of my own, - to get fame, status & make money, - to own my time & freedom
I'm starting to realize that the road to success has little to do with those things. Those things are more of the "outcome" - they are just some of the awesome things that might happen if you are successful.
If you let the "how" (your ego and preconceived notions) get in the way of the "what" (the vision), then it might break your business and/or cause you to burn out.
I'm the biggest offender of this, and it's what is causing me (and my business) pain.
Picking the most effective "how" is the job of the entrepreneur. I think that's probably how VC's and investors judge entrepreneurs. Not on their idea, but on their ability to identify the best "how".
"My way" (or "your way") might be a good place to start, but it won't be where I will end - if I want to make a bigger change than myself.
But it is also important to balance this. The flip side of this is the greedy entrepreneur that starts with a good business and eventually develops a pyramid scheme.
That's where the vision comes in. Don't compromise the vision, but be ego-less when it comes to how you accomplish that vision.
She's going to buy a house - and was pretty serious about it over the last few days.
She sent my family a text today about how she won't be moving forward with that house, for a bunch of reasons that seemed trivial.
I'm pretty sure I know the real reason why she didn't want to buy the house - because she didn't love the house. But once she got further into the process of making an offer, it probably got harder for her to say that.
I just know my mom really well and this is a thing she does - she probably didn't want to let down the realtor, or the seller, or whatever. But it doesn't matter, that's not the point of the story.
After I hung up the phone (just now), I realized I did this thing that I always do - I had to be right about my theory. I had to try and "get it out of her" that she didn't really love it, and that she would have made it work if she really loved the house.
Every time I do this I feel horrible. What does it matter if I'm right? Especially in this scenario.
But why do I do this? I think it's because I'm self-concious because I do the same thing as my mom (in some other aspect of my life).
I make up excuses that dodge the root of the problem, maybe in business, maybe in my relationships.
Making up excuses not to do something is a weakness, and when I see other people do it, I want to call them out on it. But deep down, I only see this as a weakness in others because I suffer from it the worst.
If I didn't suffer from it - I probably wouldn't care / it probably wouldn't have even crossed my mind.
I have a friend who often talks about his brother and how he's unhappy because he didn't take enough risks after college (finding the right career, etc). The reality is... my friend is so critical of his brother because he's actually self-conscious about his own adversity to risk.
He admits this though, and I think that's the most important part.
Sometimes we don't care about being right - but I think that usually means we're just indifferent, or we've "solved" that area of our own life.
For me, a good example is diet. I don't eat much meat, but I also don't care if you eat a steak in front of me. And I'm never going to argue with anyone about the benefits of a vegetarian diet. I just know that's what I like.
I do know people that will argue/talk for hours about being vegan, or why you should only eat meat, etc. The question I think about is "why do they care so much to impose their own personal choices on others?".
For people like this, there's something deeper that causes them to be this way.
Why do they have to be right?
I don't want to be right anymore.
For the things I'm fiery passionate about, I don't want you to think I that I'm trying to be right. Because when I do this, I just look like an asshole.
You can't change people. You can only change yourself.
If I can let go of this, my life will be 100x better. Working on it.