April 29th, 2020
Everyone's got ideas.

  • Ideas for businesses
  • Ideas for how the country should be run
  • Ideas for how celebrities should act
  • Ideas for how a movie could be better
  • Ideas for how an artist could have made better music
  • Ideas for how people should live their life
  • Ideas for how relationships work
  • Ideas about God, religion, happiness, meaning of life, etc

If you have ideas, but don't go about sharing and representing them constructively, as well as executing on those ideas, then people won't respect you.

I went to the bookstore the other day and saw like 10 anti-Trump books featured on the shelf. Then, I went on Twitter and saw a bunch of people arguing about the latest politics thing/flavor of the week.

Nobody respects these authors/pundits. Nobody will remember these people.

The ones that will be remembered are the ones that had ideas and actually worked on those ideas their whole life.

I often think about this video on Bernie Sanders. Who cares about politics, left/right, etc - Bernie gets my respect because executed, for decades, mostly quietly. People will remember Bernie.

April 28th, 2020
For May 2020, I'm doing the 500 Challenge.

What is the 500 Challenge? I made it up.

The challenge is to get Pigeon to 500 DAUs (daily active users) by May 31st, 2020.

If I don't reach this goal, I will donate $1 for every DAU I don't have, below 500. Currently, we have about 100 DAUs.

'Daily active users' is what it sounds like: unique people actually using the product every day. It's not signups.

Why am I doing this? It's time to focus on growth. It's time to focus on driving users and retaining & engaging them. More on this throughout the month.

But this is my commitment.

April 27th, 2020
Making money while you sleep... 

I know it's a cliche thing to say - but it still blows my mind every time I think about it.

Today, I took a break from work, and went for a run, and then played video games for an hour.

In that hour:

  • over 300 people visited my website
  • a dozen people joined the newsletter
  • a few dozen people used features of Pigeon
  • a few people visited this blog
  • I made a few bucks

I didn't need to do any (direct) work for any of this. All the work has been done.

The thing is, what blows my mind is not that I "made money" while I wasn't doing anything - it's the fact that my own work, my own creation had some sort of impact on people that I will likely never meet.

This concept is not only about money - it's about being a creator - it's about creating art. Knowing that, while you sleep - someone landed on your website, subscribed to your newsletter, watched your YouTube videos, got inspired by your blog post, donated to your charity, etc - that's what blows my mind.

To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

April 26th, 2020
I officially closed my DMs on Twitter. I also turned off direct messaging on LinkedIn.

It has come to a point where I need to do this. I don't get a million messages, but it feels like pretty much every morning I have a couple DM requests, emails, etc that I have to address.

I need to start taking my own time more seriously.

When I think of "really productive people" I think of Tim Ferriss - this guy is so methodical about how he structures his time. I imagine his own mother goes through his assistant to get to him.

How can you tell a good friend that you don't want to meet their other friend for coffee to chat about startups? Or decline a phone conversation with your friend who has a friend who wants to talk about coding boot camps?

I have to learn to turn these things down - it's easy to do over email - it's really hard to do to someone you love.

I have a college friend who texted me about startup related stuff, and I still haven't responded. It's been like 3 or 4 days now. 

After the "how to say no" project, it's become a lot easier for me to say no, or just ignore people. I don't feel as compelled to respond to everything. I'm really happy I made that project, it changed my life, because, before I made it, I thought I knew "how to say no" but I really didn't!!

April 25th, 2020
One thing I love about coding is how 99.9% of the time, the code is right and I'm wrong.

When I'm debugging something really tough, I have these moments of wanting the bang the computer against the wall, and "I'm 100% sure there is a bug in this library!!!".

Then, I take a step back, rethink things, dig deeper, start reading source code, start reading old Github issues, and then finally I get it.

And most of the time, it's for something really dumb - pure user error.

Today, I had one of those moments - I'm working on push notifications for Pigeon - I couldn't get them to work after trying (what felt like) everything. Then, after over an hour of pure confusion and frustration, I solved it.

Like an idiot, I had "Do Not Disturb" turned on on my computer - that's why I never got any notifications! Haha.

April 24th, 2020
Good week. Got a lot done. Been very focused.

Took some time off of video games during the week, getting too addicted.

However, I did make up for it tonight by playing like 5 hours straight of Zelda Breath of the Wild and finally beating the game. I think it's the best video game I've ever played. It's a perfect game. 10/10. Every time I play I'm in awe. It's so inspiring.

April 23rd, 2020
A couple months ago, I made this prediction.

And I think it's becoming more and more relevant. On sites like Indie Hackers, I continue to see "big success" stories from people selling content, courses, ebooks, etc.

In the next couple of years, I think we will see almost everyone trying to make money on the internet pivot to these kinds of models.

For a few reasons, I think:

  • It's becoming harder and harder to build an app (or more importantly grow an app)
  • Big tech companies are making it harder every day to build anything that "sticks" for consumers. For example, people spend 99% of their digital time using free Facebook and Google products (Instagram, Facebook, Chrome & Gmail)
  • It's very tempting to make "quick money" and once you make this kind of money, I imagine it's hard to not keep doing it over and over. For example, spend one week making a "course" and make $10k or spend 6 months building an app and make $1k..
  • Selling content on the internet has become more "accepted" - 10 years ago YouTubers would get canceled if they monetized their content - now it's weird if you're NOT monetizing

I think that the traditional business & entrepreneurship media has convinced all of us that the idea of "success" is building a "real company" - and it's probably convinced me. For me, if I built a business selling courses, I would not be happy with myself. 

Maybe that changes in the future, but to me, it's not my idea of success and it's not why I originally got interested in tech, learning to code, building products, etc. I'm a millennial, and I grew up on Wikipedia, Napster, Digg.com, Web 2.0 and the early days of YouTube - so my brain has been etched with "information should be free".

But I can see myself sometimes going in that direction with Starter Story... I need to make money and I need to eat, and when I see other people making $XYZ/month, it becomes so tempting to move in that direction.

But I think it's important to remember why I got into this whole thing. It's never been about making money. Sure, I want to be "rich" one day but I don't want that now.

I want to build something with IMPACT, something that changes the world. Maybe what I'm working on now isn't there yet, but I still have at least 40 more years to figure it out.

Some people just want to make passive income and have a nice life. For me, that obviously sounds nice, but I know if/when I get there I won't be happy. I would just start more things and keep trying to level up. 

So, for me, I hope to never need to make money selling my knowledge. Maybe it's because I, deep down, don't believe I have any knowledge that's worth selling. Maybe I will at the end of my life, but not now.

I'm not being self-conscious here. As an entrepreneur, I think you have to fundamentally believe that what you know isn't special. Everything can be learned, and it's usually never learned through a course or a book, it has to be learned by doing or through people you know or have a relationship with - and those things fundamentally cost nothing.

April 22nd, 2020
Today, I released a big new feature for Pigeon. Well, not really a feature, but a pretty big UI change.

I was a bit worried because, technically, this new feature changes the way Pigeon is presented inside Gmail, and it's a bit more "in your face" than it used to be. 

Part of the reason I changed it is because it makes Pigeon easier to use, which is very important. The other reason, is that it by being more "in your face" it will increase engagement and active users. But that's a post for another day...

Anyways... I was nervous about how people would react when I made the change. This made me work really hard on the feature to make it "perfect" and as visually pleasing as possible.

I deployed it and sent the announcement email.

What happened?

Nothing. Nobody complained. I only heard good things and people telling me how much better it was!

Nobody cares! Don't let people stop you from making important changes. And if you do fuck something up, you can always fix it :)

April 21st, 2020
A couple of weeks ago, I was talking about simplifying my todo list and moving to only three tasks/day.

Now, I'm pushing it down even more - to one task per day.

These "tasks" are different, though:

  • They are bigger in scope, they are more like a "project", a new feature, or a new process.
  • These tasks get finished to 100% - I try to solve all of the edge cases and set them up for the future (and so I don't have to touch them again)

These tasks aren't "respond to emails" or "publish new blog post" or "send newsletter". I still do those things, but they are busywork - they need to get done but they aren't a part of my "serious" todo list. They are just the day to day - and I need to keep thinking about ways that I don't have to do those things (through hiring, outsourcing, automating, or simply eliminating).

April 20th, 2020
As a bootstrapped founder, I have a close relationship with customers and people who try out my products.

They have a direct line with me, and when they have issues, they can message me. When they cancel, they tell me why. When they don't like something, they tell me.

One thing I've noticed is there's a specific type of customer that my business is not good serving. It's usually someone who has feedback about design, usability, and features compared to other tools.

Here are some examples:

  • "The setup interface required too many clicks"
  • "It doesn't work like my other tool"
  • "It's not as easy to use as I'd like it to be"
  • "It needs a dark mode"
  • "I will buy your product ONCE you have [INSERT NICHE FEATURE]"
  • "I'd like this to work like a relational database"
  • "I'm a developer, this would be really easy to implement."

Talking to customers and getting feedback is the cornerstone of building a great product, but this kind of feedback (while still valuable) may be a sign that it's not the right customer.

Sure, I can build an interface that requires fewer clicks, but that won't result in new customers, and for 95% of customers, clicking a couple of extra times is fine. It's not 100% ideal, but it gets the job done. The key is that my product solves a serious pain point for them.

When I started out, I took this kind of feedback really seriously, but over time I saw the same trend, customers who had this kind of "nitpicky" feedback tended to cancel anyways. Was it (1) the result of me not having a good enough product? Or (2) them not being the right customer? It's a bit of both, and when you have both, it will never work out, even if you improve things on the product side.

I think a common mistake we make as early founders is that we look at [INSERT BIG COMPANY IN YOUR SPACE] as having a shitty product and that we can easily build something better.

But as we build a company, we realize that:

  1. Better product =/= better design/UI/ease of use (i.e. Salesforce)
  2. Building a great product gets really hard, especially as you grow
  3. Almost all (big) companies have a shitty product

I still believe in building a great product, but as I've gone from software engineer to founder, my idea of a "great product" has started to evolve - and that's where I've had to make some tradeoffs.

April 19th, 2020
move the needle. (idiomatic) To change a situation to a noticeable degree.

  • Changing the layout of your homepage will not move the needle
  • Most new features will not move the needle
  • Switching from X to Y tool/platform will not move the needle
  • Small SEO tweaks will not move the needle
  • A Product Hunt launch will not move the needle
  • Emails will not move the needle
  • "That one big potential customer" will not move the needle
  • Meetings will not move the needle
  • Consultants will not move the needle
  • "That one growth course" will not move the needle
  • Implementing Vue.js will not move the needle
  • Rebuilding your codebase will not move the needle
  • Unit tests will not move the needle
  • Moving off of Heroku will not move the needle
  • "That one blog post" will not move the needle
  • Changing the copy of your call to action will not move the needle

As an early founder, I've found it very dangerous (but also tempting) when I'm prioritizing tasks like these over tasks that actually move the needle.

I'm not saying these things aren't important, but (in my experience) most of them don't have a high impact on the business.

April 18th, 2020
I always listen to music while working + noise-canceling headphones.

My criteria for the most productive music:

  • DJ sets
  • Music with no lyrics (or repetitive lyrics)
  • Classic hip hop albums / mixtapes

The best music is music that "flows" together naturally (like full albums and sets), rather than a playlist on shuffle. When music effortlessly transitions, I get lost in my code/writing/whatever.

I also find YouTube to be the best way to listen to music because they have the full DJ sets and albums, and their recommended is really good.

Here are some playlists/sets that always get me in the zone:

^^ A running list. If you know of other music I might like please send it to me!

April 17th, 2020
Today, I had a customer who was trying out Pigeon.

They had a bug so they messaged me through the app - we got to talking and we couldn't solve the issue. So I offered to jump on a screen share and look into the problem.

We got on screen share and then solved the issue.

Getting to talk to a customer organically like this is awesome, so I asked him why he was checking out Pigeon and what he did for work.

He started talking and telling me why, but for some reason, I got "spooked" - we started talking about competitors but I didn't want to come of like a "sales guy" so I just told him to let me know which product he ends up going with.

I wish I just kept talking, kept selling, kept asking questions about him, but I didn't.

And then, when the call ended, I immediately regretted not doing this. FUCK.

It was like when you see a cute girl, contemplate talking to her, you hesitate, and then it's over - and you think "what if" for the rest of the day...

April 16th, 2020
I've found that removing distractions from my everyday life is a guaranteed way to become a tiny bit happier.

And it sort of boggles my mind that not everybody does this.

You know that notification that you keep getting from XYZ app? Maybe it's iCloud letting you know your phone isn't backed up, or a new "like" on Instagram.

Or maybe it's MyFitnessPal sending you the same message every day.

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Well, here's a guaranteed way to improve your day:

  1. Figure out how to turn that notification off
  2. Live your life for a couple more days
  3. Look back and realize how much better your life is without that thing

An example

I used to get email notifications whenever someone signed up for a free trial to Pigeon.

These notifications "felt" important - probably because they gave me a mini rush of adrenaline.

At best, I could see the email who signed up, and at worst it would put me on a 10-15 minute bullshit sidequest of distraction.

One day, I accidentally removed these notifications because I made changes to how free trials worked.

For the next couple of days, there were people signing up for the product and I had no idea.

But guess what? It didn't matter. Someone signing up to Pigeon does not (and should not) require any attention from me.

This may seem like a simple example, but you can apply it to everything:

  • Turn off Stripe email notifications for when you make a sale
  • Delete Instagram from your phone
  • Mute everyone on Twitter
  • Put on Do not disturb on your phone
  • Put your phone in another room
  • Don't leave Slack open on your computer
  • Unsubscribe from all emails
  • Filter out unimportant transactional emails

The list could go on forever.

From my corporate days

I remember when I started my first job in corporate America, there was this internal chat/IM program called Microsoft Lync (before the days of Slack).

99% of the company would be online ALL THE TIME on this. You could IM anyone in the company and interrupt them, anytime, and it was a big company (300k+ employees across the world).

After I started working there, I found that conversations on Lync tended to go on for way too long, and the majority of conversation was about nothing / complaining about your bosses or clients.

So, I decided to uninstall Lync from my work computer. Life was so much better without it, and I got so much more work done.

However, people at the company thought I was crazy. Everyone asked about it. And because I was never "online", many people thought I was fired.

It still doesn't make sense to me why people wanted this distraction in their lives.

I think that maybe people are just different. Some people enjoy chatting on IM and being distracted and complaining about their boss and generally dilly-dallying through their day... I'm just not one of those people.

April 15th, 2020
A lot of people will try to give you advice in life.

Whether indirectly (a tweet you read), or directly (a phone conversation), I think it's important to understand that all advice is contextual, meaning it worked for them but it won't work the same for you.

I think as a founder you should be especially skeptical of advice from:

  • someone who works at a marketing agency
  • someone who does "consulting"
  • Instagram entrepreneurs
  • someone who sells courses
  • podcasts
  • forums
  • Reddit
  • Twitter
  • everything you read on LinkedIn
  • etc

^^ Because on all of these mediums, there is usually something to gain from you - whether it's your money, your time, or your attention.

Maybe I'm being pessimistic, but it's hard to remember a time where I took advice from a podcast and it worked really well. Sure, I've learned a lot from podcasts - but it's more "fundamentals" stuff (which is obviously important).

The biggest breakthroughs for me have usually been when I figured out something myself, or discovered a new "thing" through trial and error and hours of focused work honing it in.

The only exception I've found where advice is mostly solid is from other founders who are also currently building a company

And it's usually not advice I want from these people - it's more just someone to talk to who also knows what I'm going through.

April 14th, 2020
About 10 days ago, I was in a discouraged state - one of those states where you question a lot of the things that you're doing.

I had some of my first real thoughts of shutting down Pigeon.

Usually, I push those thoughts away - what's the point right? 

But this time, I just decided to run that situation through my head, such as:

  • What that process would look like
  • How would I let people know it was over
  • What would I work on next?
  • Is there anything else I want to work on?

It wasn't a "giving up" moment, but rather a conscious exercise of "what if?".

After running all of the scenarios I started to feel a lot better. The vision went from "I'm doomed" to "here's where I can improve, and how".

The funny thing is that I often have moments like this, where everything feels doomed, but no matter what, it always gets better and I always get over it. In the moment, it feels like I won't get over it. But 100% of the time, I do!

What gets me excited about this is that it basically confirms you can do anything you want to do in life, as long as you don't quit!!

This also reminds me that it's pointless to think about quitting. If I wanted to quit, I would have done it already. I've quit other projects because I wanted to quit them. 

It's pointless to think about quitting because I know, deep down, I literally cannot quit. I can quit for an hour, or a day, or a week, but I can't quit permanently.

April 13th, 2020
I love this quote by Will Smith:

You don’t set out to build a wall. You don’t say ‘I’m going to build the biggest, baddest, greatest wall that’s ever been built.’ You don’t start there. You say, ‘I’m going to lay this brick as perfectly as a brick can be laid. You do that every single day. And soon you have a wall.

Lately, I've been thinking a lot more about the second sentence, specifically "laying a brick as perfectly as a brick can be laid".

I'm very critical of myself on this - I know that, deep down, I don't lay my bricks perfectly. I cut corners, I'm sloppy, and I'm not very calculated.

This is part of my nature, but it's also because I'm simply doing too many things at once.

The stress of doing too many things is unavoidable as a founder, but I also know that with more focus, and more critical thinking, I can lay my bricks a bit more eloquently.

But, to do this, I need to: 

  • "say no" to more things. 
  • I need to delegate way more. 
  • And I need to stop thinking I can do everything myself.

The "How To Say No" project is a great example where I'm proud of my execution. I was "calculated" with that project. I was able to let go of my ego and ask for feedback from really smart people. I put in the extra work to make it great. 

I kept stripping it down to the "essentials", which made it so simple and easy to understand. And that wasn't by accident - that was me sitting down, and staring at the page, ripping it apart and putting it back together again.

This is how I'm treating projects now. Instead of throwing a million things at the wall, I'm going to be more laser-focused. I'm going to execute on it and finish what I start, before I start anything else. Instead of doing 90% and knowing I'll add the 10% later (which I never do), I'm now doing 100% on the spot, even if that takes 8 more hours.

Laying your bricks "perfectly" is everything.

April 12th, 2020
I came across this Hacker News post the other day - a guy is asking for books he should read before starting his own business.

He prefaces this post with this:

My goal in life (as of right now at least) is to start my own SaaS business so that I can eventually quit my 40 hour work week and have more time for things I enjoy doing.

At least from personal experience, starting a SaaS business will not give you any time back for things you enjoy doing. A 40-hour workweek at BigCo is nothing compared to the hours you will work building your own company.

You might spend 40 hours/week "writing code" but you will spend almost every other waking minute thinking about your startup, which will probably just lead to working more anyways.

So what's it actually like to be a founder?

Here's what they don't tell you:

  • Constantly thinking about your startup
  • Wake up every day thinking about your startup in some way
  • Go to bed thinking about your startup in some way
  • Constantly thinking about your startup on the weekends
  • Chatting with a friend/family? Your mind wanders into something about your startup
  • Sometimes 10-12 hour days in front of your computer screen - and always "maximizing" your time
  • Tracking down and fixing the craziest bugs at 1AM
  • Worried about cash, paying rent, or stressed about your next "big deal"
  • Living with your mom at 29 years old
  • Checking your email hundreds of times per day
  • Nobody to vent to / understands what you're going through (and it's not healthy or smart to vent to employees, customers, social media, etc)
  • Nobody to fall back on (you always have to take ownership)
  • Rejection
  • Self-doubt
  • "it's never good enough" / always wanting the next thing
  • Nasty customers & people saying hateful things on the internet

I don't mean to sound negative, it's just the truth. And obviously, it's not always like this. If you want the freedom and fulfillment that comes with being a founder, you will probably have to deal with some of this.

But just like anything these "bad things" actually are good things, because you have to experience them to grow.

"There is no such thing as change without pain, no growth without discomfort." - Mark Manson

April 11th, 2020
It really bothers me when I see/hear of people that are not social distancing, or they are making "exceptions" like still meeting up with friends.

I don't know why it bothers me so much - but it actually really personally offends me.

I feel like people that do this are selfish and self-serving and not living with good principles.

It actually caused a really big fight with my family today because I expressed this about one of my family members.

I have to realize that not everyone thinks the same way I do. I am very passionate about social distancing, and for me, it's very black and white what it means to social distance.

But I have to realize that people probably see it differently and I can't project my beliefs on others.

I can only speak my piece and need to just accept things for the way they are as opposed to trying to change people.

The way I acted today was kind of like a Twitter SJW - acting like my opinion was the only one that matters and not seeing the other side of the story.

Or I acted like that person that freaks out about politics every day even though they have no influence or control in the situation.

I don't ever want to be that guy. 

I live my life, you live yours.

April 10th, 2020
I missed another day of writing.

Today, I'm donating to Direct Relief, who is directly helping doctors and nurses get the equipment they need during COVID-19.

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