April 1st, 2020
(this is an excerpt from my monthly open startup email)

March 2020, tldr:

The elephant in the room is, obviously, coronavirus - with markets crashing and the entire world distracted, it felt like the end for a minute there... In early March, organic traffic plunged down 40% and there were many days with no sales at all.

But as the month went by things started to "normalize" for us and we tried our best to stay focused. Overall, March was a very productive month and we kept our focus on increasing the value of the Starter Story membership and moving Pigeon to a freemium model.

We hit all of our goals for the month.

Thank you to the whole team for an awesome month - it's so impressive how much we are getting done together. Because we run such a lean operation, we we will be able to make it through a darker period and come out even stronger.

the good

- Seeing really nice Starter Story MRR increases (+$300 MRR) from adding value to the premium membership and showing readers that it actually exists (i.e. including it in our newsletter).
- The Starter Story community is launched and rolling - lots to learn here but the future looks good (100+ members as of now).
- We launched the Start page and over 8 how-to guides - with the goal to provide readers with something more similar to a "course".
- We launched Pigeon freemium - I believe this is the next step for growth (through Chrome Web Store, G Suite Marketplace, content marketing channels, etc).
- Although traffic was down, it's looking better in the last couple of days (see below image).

the bad

- Significantly less traffic, email signups, and new memberships
- A few big cancellations / "putting subscriptions on pause" for Pigeon - MRR is lower than last month

Numbers:

- Total Revenue: $8,661 (88% Starter Story / 12% Pigeon) (-$237)
- Starter Story Traffic: 492k pageviews (traffic down 10% MoM)
- Pieces of content published: 110! (highest all-time)
- Email List: 12,511 total subscribers (+500 net subscribers)
- Starter Story Premium MRR: $1.5K (highest all time) (+$300 MRR)
- Pigeon MRR: $1.05K (-$50 MRR)

(I'm no longer tracking traffic in GA, as I've discovered it's not very accurate because so many users have the script blocked!)

What got done / what went well:


- Stripe integrations to automate failed payments and cancel subscriptions
- Created automated outreach system that allows us to input in a type of business (i.e. dog walking business) and get loads of leads that we can reach out to for interview
- Did 6 AMAs with founders in our community - example
- Made site changes to expose the premium membership more throughout the site + in the newsletter
- A smoother signup process for Starter Story premium
- A few new Pigeon features: New suggested actions feature, inline images in sequences/templates, bulk delete sequences, better documentation pages, order sequences/collections

Goals for April:

I'm trying a "less is more" approach to goals this month:

- Fully deploy Pigeon content marketing (hire someone, plan the content, let them go)
- Launch Pigeon as a G Suite Add On
- Launch Pigeon for Teams / Shared Inbox features
- 100+ pieces of content on starter story
- Finish the how-to guides, continue to push out more "roundup-type" content
- Continue experimentation with the community and find what works
- Continue experimenting with the Starter Story paywall and possibly some AB tests

Thanks for reading!

March 31st, 2020
For context on this:


Unlike February's skill, this one was a big success! Here's what I learned and some examples of how I applied this knowledge:

I learned how to be more consistent

I learned about color palettes, well, I learned that it's a whole lot easier to use a scale for each color, this is how I have my CSS files set up now:

In my code, I'm not concerned with hex, I just use the variable "blue3", it makes things so much easier and consistent

Also works great for padding and font sizes.

I redid the entire landing page for Pigeon:

More screenshots from the new Pigeon landing page:


I added more color to the spreadsheet view, which makes things look sooooooo much nicer:

Just some simple colors make a huge difference.


I also redid the sidebar for Pigeon: video.

Overall, here's my takeaways and some things I learned:

  • Don't reinvent the wheel - what other (successful) sites are doing probably works, esp from a conversion perspective
  • Design/UI is fun and it's just like coding - every day you get better and learn new tricks up your sleeve
  • Use Dribbble for inspiration
  • There is not very much good content out there on modern design
  • Refactoring UI is the best money you'll ever spend
  • ASK FOR FEEDBACK from people - it really helps.

Really stoked on this new "skill"! I'm not sure what my hobby will be for April. I will come up with it by tomorrow though!

March 30th, 2020
It's almost April, and I had big plans for April, May, & June.

I was going to live in New York City and have a blast. That's not happening anymore.

I'm predicting that this virus thing won't be over for at least two months.

This brand new month of April coming up? We will all be quarantined. May? Likely same thing.

It's time to get used to this way of life and seize the opportunity. These next two months are going to be huge for me.

Luckily, I'm in a spot where I have some money, some businesses, and some TIME to work on them. These next two months are a time to push everything forward - to take advantage of a moment where I have nothing else to do!!

This is fucking exciting!! I'm pumping my fists in the air right now.

A clear schedule. No social obligations. No commitments. No pressure.

We will look back at this time and be nostalgic. There will be memes about this - "Take me back to 2020 when it was socially acceptable to not leave the house for weeks."

I like to think of the other businesses (like my competitors) where their employees are sitting around with nothing to do, "WFH life", their projects falling apart, productivity going down, nonchalant attitude, and everyone just "waiting" for this to be over.

Well, it ain't gonna be over anytime soon, and they might also lose their job in the meantime.

I need to be the antithesis of that.

If I can have this mentality, it will all go by faster, and I'll be way happier, too.

March 29th, 2020
I got a really nice email from a reader, which I'd love to show, as well as my own response.

For anyone reading this, I invite you to email me your thoughts about anything I write, anytime. My email is [email protected]:

---

(excerpt)

In “Ask and you shall receive”, you expanded on a buffet of feelings so many of us have felt in this software/entrepenuer/whatever you want to call it space. I had a few thoughts on how you are positioning your business to yourself that I hope you’ll consider.

  1. Identifying your desire to not feel guilty when charging your customers money, is awesome. You’re way ahead of most people in knowing you need your customers to buy in to continue to enable you providing value to them! 
  2. Invite yourself to feel guilty when you don’t charge people for value, because when you don’t sustain your business and furthermore yourself you deprive your most loyal fans of you and your business’ service.
  3. Value is subjective. You customers aren’t paying you what your service is worth, they are paying what you your asking price because what you provide is worth more than the money they have. I’m reminded of a Jerry Seinfeld interview where Jerry was asked if he had a favorite joke. He responded to the interviewer that it was a silly question because comedy for him is like breathing and therefore his favorite joke was the joke that would get him to the next joke. The haunting reality of it all, is that this isn’t true just for Jerry Seinfeld and his jokes, but for each and every one of us along with the craft we choose to pursue. Your most valuable product or service is the one that enables you to sell the next one, and so on. What seems like snake oil to you may well be holy water for someone else. And fortunately, we live in a time and place where we get to choose what will be our holy water and what will see as snake oil.

To a community of people, you have a holy water for them. But remember, even Jesus, with a billion followers and churches from Chile to Cechnya, has more haters than followers. It should remind us that there will be more people who either hate us or are indifferent to our efforts but remember we don’t work for them. We work for the few who get value from what we bring to the table.

Starter Story to enough people is life-changing encouragement; value your holy water accordingly.

In “Silver Lining”, you gifted all of us a candid look into your life. In fact, I enjoy that we are seeing more of this from creators on the internet in the times we are in. But your blog post stopped me in my tracks for a moment. I leaned back and thought, you know what, what if all the other stuff was silver lining stripped away, and the things we are actually enjoying now is the real gold of life. You said it succinctly yourself in your fourth bullet:

Things will be fine

In fact, it is possible with less driving alone, our countries average of 40,000 vehicular deaths a year may lower this year, off setting the loss of life we are so attentive to with this virus threat. Not that any loss of life is not cause for contemplation, but it seems in this moment we have all considered what’s most important and realized maybe in our time before all this, we were mining for silver when we were already sitting on gold.

---

My response (excerpt):

On the first points, you're right - value is subjective - it's crazy to think about. What seemed valuable to me years ago is no longer all that valuable to me, but I can't let my own perspective get in the way. For example, content on "how to start a business" is not worth much to me anymore but it may be worth $5,000 to someone just starting out where it does actually change their life. I need to be more cognizant of that. It helps when I hear from people that Starter Story changed their life or just get thank you emails and that kind of thing.

But even selling SaaS software, because I know how to code and automate things, I take things like that for granted. What seems dead simple to me may be a breakthrough for someone else. This goes back to even some of my corporate days when I would teach clients things, but I would assume "they knew what I knew" and then they would get confused because I skipped a step. Then I would see someone else explain XYZ in more simpler terms and then the clients had the "aha" moment and everything clicked.

I think as engineer-types we make this mistake a lot - and I'm trying to find better ways to prevent this before it happens, I guess asking more of the right questions and listening more... Maybe you have some ideas to get better at this?

As far as having haters, you are 100% right on that. I think about this a lot. We don't realize it now, but the ones with haters have the biggest impact.

Trump, Kanye, Elon Musk, Oprah, Mark Zuckerberg, etc (just examples) - personally I don't pay much attention to their policies/opinions or what they did last week - but I'm constantly enamored with their ability to "not back down" from criticism or shame or public embarrassment. They are unbreakable - nothing can affect them. Even "scandals" of the biggest proportions barely affects them in the grand scheme.

As for coronavirus - yes - once the dust settles people will look at their bank statements during this time period and realize that they got by just fine spending nothing, and hopefully will also realize they were happier during this time. I'm excited for this to be over and see what people say about it and how it changes our generation....

March 28th, 2020
I live my life with a strong sense of urgency.

For most hours of the day, I'm focused on something.

Focused on getting work done. Focused on growth. Focused on writing. Focused on running. Focused on some family stuff. Focused on friends. Etc.

Especially in recent months - I've just been working really hard and I'm pretty much "always working" - even on weekends and holidays.

But today was different.

I completed some "big" goals on Friday (yesterday) and it feels like I'm at a new "crossroads" with my products. Because I completed these projects, I'm thinking "what's next"? And I really don't know.

So that feels a bit weird.

Also, with COVID-19 there's not really much to do. So even though "I got all my work done", it felt like there was nothing to do.

It was nice. I haven't felt like this in a really long time.

At first, I "created" work for myself. I'm thinking about new growth channels and how to "take the next big leap". But I don't really know how I'm going to do this.

So I started taking notes from blog posts and listening to some podcasts from founders of companies I'd like to emulate.

But then I realized I was just creating work for myself because I don't know how to not work.

I went on a walk. The streets were empty. Just ambulances, police cars, and Amazon Prime delivery trucks.

My walk had no sense of urgency. I wasn't thinking about the work I needed to do when my walk was over (which I usually do).

I walked into a sunny parking lot and just stood there - with my Bose headphones blasting Big K.R.I.T. - pumping my fists when the songs hit my favorite parts.

In the middle of the parking lot, I was surrounded by huge buildings in the middle of downtown Salt Lake City - but all these buildings are completely empty - I felt like I was in the movie I Am Legend.

It feels like the world has come to a standstill - it's so strange.

March 27th, 2020
I don't have anything insightful to say right now.

Tackled another nasty bug today - it keeps showing me that I need need need to focus more on testing. Both unit testing and QA/integration stuff.

I also have to accept that there will be bugs. There are always bugs in all software.

Billion-dollar companies have bugs. Slack has gone down for hours for all customers at times - which is just crazy to think about.

I'm in this accountability group with a couple friends where we post our monthly and daily goals. One of the things we've been talking about in the group is to "have less goals" or be more focused with our goals.

My goals for March were:

  1. Launch the Starter Story community
  2. Get Pigeon freemium ready for mid-April launch

What's crazy is that it's March 27th and I already accomplished both of those goals - and especially, I got #2 done before March was even over.

I'm really excited for April - because I'm going to set bigger goals, but still, just 2 or 3 of them.

Again, I keep thinking about Peter Thiel's quote:

Take your 10-year life plan and ask, Why can't I do this in six months?

This quote obviously a bit of hyperbole, but it keeps me thinking about what's possible and how I can hack my own limits.

David Goggins' Can't Hurt Me book also had me thinking like this as well.

It's just so inspiring to hear of people that did extraordinary things - some of my questions are... 

  • What makes them like this? 
  • How did they hack their own brain to think like this? 
  • What happened in their life that made them like that?

I want to learn more about this.

March 26th, 2020
Today sucked.

The post-Corona cancellations for Pigeon are finally starting to roll in. 

3 cancellations in 24 hours. 

I think Pigeon will dip below $1K MRR soon.

I also had a nasty bug today that I spent over 3 hours on.

Days like this really bring on the doubts and echo the naysayers:

  • "You can't build a SaaS alone."
  • "You don't know anything about good design or UI."
  • "You're not technically savvy enough for this."
  • "You're never going to win this battle."
  • "Your vision is too big."
  • "You don't have a market."

And the list goes on.

The bigger question: "Can I actually do it?"

I took a break after all this mayhem and searched "Kanye motivation". I found this video.

It pumped me back up again - Kanye talking about how he got into fashion when everyone told him he couldn't - or that he rapped when everyone told him he could only make beats.

I need to visualize more like this - embrace the haters - embrace the doubt - use that as tailwind to do the things that I (or others) believe that I can't.

Fear, fear's a powerful thing. I mean it's got a lot of firepower. If you can figure out a way to wrestle that fear to push you from behind rather than to stand in front of you, that's very powerful. I always felt that I had to work harder than the next guy, just to do as well as the next guy. And to do better than the next guy, I had to just kill. And you know, to a certain extent, that's still with me in how I work, you know, I just... go in.

- Jimmy Iovine

March 25th, 2020
I've been thinking (and acting) on this new idea of "working on the most important thing".

I'm trying to actually live up to that motto.

I used to set aside time every morning to write this daily journal. But I found that the mental energy of writing a journal could take away from more important things.

So I decided that I should not be doing this daily journal in the morning along with other non-important things.

It's going very well for me, but I'm still committed to doing this daily journal.

However, that means that I write this journal at the end of the day when I'm fried. Instead of having ideas flowing and excitement about writing, I'm often just going through the motions and just getting something posted.

But that's OK! I will go through different phases. Sometimes, I'm thinking deeply and writing deeply, and sometimes I'm just grinding and being productive.

Right now is a productive phase for me, but I know that will change - who knows what/when will be the next phase.

When I started this daily journal, I told myself I could write anything - and sometimes that can just be a checklist of what I did that day, or literally one word, or some quoted lyrics - who cares...

March 24th, 2020
What's the silver lining behind the coronavirus?

Some things I've noticed:

  • It has brought my family closer together - we talk a lot more and do a daily FaceTime.
  • It has brought my friends closer - I've been more connected to my buddies over Zoom calls, texts and FaceTimes.
  • It's showing people that you can live with less - you don't need the fancy gym classes to get a workout and you don't need to have Starbucks every day.
  • It's showing people that we can simply shut things down and things will be fine - we literally moved the Olympics to a different year - something that seems impossible became a reality.
  • It's showing people that the world can come together with a common goal - to get rid of the virus.
  • It gives everyone something common to talk about - we can all relate to each other - no matter our race, political affiliation, etc.

I don't want to downplay the virus as it's a horrible thing and I wished it never happened, but those are the silver linings I've been thinking about.

Hopefully, this whole thing ends soon.

March 23rd, 2020
Over the past week, I've been working on a project at Starter Story with my sister to help give her some work and because I really need help with content writing.

I told her to check out a few of my competitors and tell me why they are making more money than me.

So she put together a document of why that might be, and we went over it together and created a plan of action.

What was her conclusion? That the website simply doesn't show users that you can pay for this premium membership.

It was so hidden away. I was afraid to ask people for money.

Part of this is because we have a "sponsor model", but also part of it was my fear of looking greedy.

Our "action plan" took about two days to implement.

It was simple things such as "put the signup button in the header" and "email to your list about your premium content".

After making these changes, I'm seeing noticeable increases in signups and revenue.

We're going to keep working on this now and follow the money - add more premium content and paywall more things.

I need to understand that Starter Story has enabled so many people - and it's always been free. 

I need to be more OK with charging money. I need to be more OK with an angry customer or two.

This is one of my problems - I feel guilty for every Stripe charge that comes in. I feel like shit for every churn. I carry that burden with me always. 

I don't understand how people sell snake oil courses or vaporware - like I just can't imagine how they feel everytime they take money without providing value.

But that's what makes them great at what they do...

March 22nd, 2020
Want to get something done 10x faster?

What's the hack?

I don't do it. Remove it from my todo list completely.

If it keeps hanging out on my todo list, then it's probably not that important.

Removing it from my todo list just made me 10x more productive.

(Note - I'm not saying I'm an expert at this - but I'm trying to get better at it.)

An example

This daily journal app you're reading right now. I want to open source it. It's been on my todo list for a while.

I started working on it today. It was about 1-2 hours of work...

Then, I started thinking...

  • "Wait, I have to pull out all of my crappy code."
  • "I need to squash all my commits to hide the passwords I hardcoded."
  • "Wait, what is going to come out of making this open source?"
  • "Once I launch this, it will require upkeep."
  • "People will be submitting issues for the stupidest things, and PRs that I will receive emails about."
  • "What is the benefit of this? To get some stars on Github?"

So I deleted the entire project off of my todo list.

I just saved myself 200 hours.

March 21st, 2020
I bought a Nintendo Switch.

I'm a die-hard Animal Crossing fan and the new game just came out.

I try not to get into video games much anymore because it's kind of a waste of time.

But there's something nice about jumping into a game and forgetting about the world. I forgot about that. It's such a nice escape - and I never find ways to escape anymore.

When I start playing, I stop thinking about my emails, or issues, or other crap - it's really nice.

But then when I shut off the game, I remember there's a global pandemic happening - and it's such a trip.

March 20th, 2020
My sister was partially laid off from her job.

I'm having her help with some stuff at Starter Story, and paying her a little - she works in hospitality so there is literally no work for her.

She helped me write a guide about 20 businesses you can start while working at home during these times. I published the guide, and then I decided last minute to paywall it and ship it in the newsletter.

Starter Story has mainly been free for the last 2 years. But I asked her how she could help it make more money, and now we have a fun project to work on together while we literally sit at home all day.

I pushed out the newsletter with the paid piece and traffic spiked like crazy! People must really be interested in this content because open and click rates were through the roof.

And then people got mad, emailing me back and saying things like "shame on you" and calling me out for taking advantage of the situation. I didn't write this article and intend to paywall it because of covid-19, it was an article I intended to write before the virus (about general business ideas) - and generally - I'm focused on pushing the paid membership on Starter Story more.

I can understand why people are mad though, and every time I got an email like this, I felt really shitty. I definitely could have positioned things better, but I just pushed it out quickly - plus I just wanted to try something new and see if I could get some momentum on the project with my sister to keep her motivated.

Funny thing is though, unsubscribes were very minimal. People complain, but they don't unsub....

March 19th, 2020
Today was the most productive day since over a week.

I only looked at the Dow a couple times.

I found myself focused and zoned in. Getting a lot done.

Thinking less and less about the COVID distraction and coming to terms with the fact that everything is going to be OK and back to focusing on the opportunities in front of me.

I had a friend send me a couple really great articles on how we (as entrepreneurs) can face the situation:


The general takeaway for me was:

Stop being fearful. You need to go all in. You don't want to look back at this and wish you did this or that - take what you were doing before - and go even harder. Recessions make millionaires.

And those articles and sentiments motivated me to WORK HARD today. Focused, energetic, passionate - and avoiding the news.

March 18th, 2020
I woke up this morning early, around 5AM. I slept poorly last night.

I started working and at around 7AM, a 5.7 magnitude earthquake happened.

I've experienced earthquakes, but never like this one. The whole complex was shaking violently and it lasted for about 20 seconds.

I was with my mom and we experienced it together.

I was very scared for my life.

Something about it being really early in the morning (still dark) and with the whole COVID-19 lockdown, the whole thing just felt so eerie.

And the aftershocks were really bad - all day - the floor was shaking and rumbling and there were a reported 50+ aftershocks, with a few that were 4+ on the Richter scale.

This was the biggest earthquake to hit Utah since 1992. The epicenter was about 12 miles away from my apartment.

This morning, I felt like I was starting to get more "used to" the coronavirus situation - and was excited to get a big start on the day - then this happened.

I hope tomorrow will be fresh.

IMG_4956.png 9.04 MB

March 17th, 2020
I need to focus.

Today was one of the most unproductive days I can remember.

- Can't stop following Corona news and updates
- Crazy stuff going on with family (because of Corona)
- My app was removed from the Chrome Web Store

All of these things happening at once, and I legitimately got 1 hour of productive work done. Had a plan to do a few big tasks, tackled about 1/5th of one task.

I need to be able to control my focus in these times. While there is so much uncertainty, there is also so much opportunity.

No more excuses.

Time to focus.

March 16th, 2020
I'm so sick and tired of Google.

A fucking greedy machine of robots. They profited $50B last year and have $120B in cash on hand.

Yet, they can't even hire support people for the Chrome Web Store. You can't contact them with questions. They implement whatever policies they feel, even if it fucks over developers or entire ecosystems.

I just got my Chrome extension removed from the Chrome Web Store. I went on the forum and there are dozens of other developers that are experiencing the same thing - some are waiting for weeks with no response.

I want to smash my keyboard with force. I have no idea how long it will take, but right now people cannot download my app - at all. So if this goes on for two weeks, then I will lose two weeks of potential new customers.

Fuck Google.

Somehow, as a company, they are exempt from providing basic customer support. Because they made everything "free", nobody feels like they can complain about them. 

Because it's free, right? It's not free. We are all slaves to Google already - they own us.

Now that the founders left the company, this will only get worse. Fuck Google, and fuck today. 

I hope we break up the big tech companies.

March 15th, 2020
Training for the marathon was a BIG project. It was 3-4 months of work and it kept me very focused on a goal.

As the time goes by you start to forget about how the marathon training impacts you. It gives you structure. You feel great. You feel disciplined.

Well, it's been a week since I finished the marathon, and it's weird to not have that marathon hanging over my head. Sometimes my brain feels a bit foggy, and I remember it's probably because I'm not exercising.

Finally, today, I went on a short jog.

I need a new fitness goal.

While I have a half marathon coming up in two months, I don't plan to take that one too seriously - also who knows if that one will even happen because of COVID-19. I will also run a marathon later in the year and try to break 3:30.

But, anyways, back to my new goal.

By the end of the month, I want to run a 6-minute mile.

It's not that crazy of a goal, but I've never done it before, or really ever tested my mile time.

I just went to the track to see how it would feel to run a lap in 1 minute and 30 seconds - it felt really fast. I'll report back in two weeks!

March 14th, 2020
Almost forgot to journal...

Today I worked on features and stocked up at the grocery story for coronavirus.

I think covid-19 is going to get really bad... More on that another time.

March 13th, 2020
Yesterday was a really really shitty day.

1. Had a really bad production bug in Pigeon.
2. Lost a $100+ MRR customer.
3. Stock market dropped 10% and this whole coronavirus thing really sucks.

Have to look at the bright side:

1. This bug was caused by a careless mistake by me and it would have been easily caught if I had just set up the CI a few months back. After this happened I finally got my whole integration set up today and now I'm feeling good! Testing will be a big focus going forward and I'm excited!
2. This was a bad customer for Pigeon, and I keep learning my lesson with customers like these. These guys wanted to do thousands of cold emails per day, and while that's possible with Pigeon, it's not its strong suit. There have been other customers like this, and they all had MASSIVE support costs because (1) I don't have all the features so they are always asking and (2) mass cold email is hard and Google does a lot to prevent it. And guess what? All of these customers eventually churn! There have been 3-4 like this so far... Going forward, I will not be taking customers like this and instead of selling them on the product I will tell them to go try out some other tools.
3. If you can look on the bright side, the virus is a great time to hunker down and WORK! Get shit done and put things in place while others freak out and react. I think this scare will be a couple of months long, so might as well FOCUS.