February 19th, 2020
I wrote a whole thing and then lost it...

Don't have time to rewrite now, but this journal was about how it's easier to break up a large mundane task into small weekly recurring calendar events and chip away at it.

For example, if you want to reach out to 100 bloggers, set a calendar event on Mondays to do 5 per week. Each week, you'll get better at it and learn new things, too.

This strategy helped me get on a couple blogs this week (I want more businesses to come to us about sharing their story).

And the funny thing is, last week, I had no success. This week, we landed in two blog posts/Github repos. I will continue to do this every week now! It all adds up :)


February 18th, 2020
Recently, I heard this phrase "rent free". I think it was on a meme so I had to look it up.

The definition on Urban Dictionary is: 

To live in the head of someone that can’t stop thinking about you or anything to do with you.

Rent free meme


I'm no fan of Donald Trump, but the meme here is a perfect analogy. Donald Trump lives in the minds of millions of people every day. It is his goal to do that, actually. He is an attention whore.

It's not just Donald Trump, though, everyone wants your attention and mindshare. That's why Facebook/Instagram designs a highly addictive UX and Netflix has a $14B content budget.

But this blog post is not about that.

The rent free meme helped me in another way.

There are some people that I think about often, whether it's competitors, enemies, friends, colleagues, people I look up to, etc. 

The rent free framework is a framework to remind yourself that you should not be thinking about other people in that way - wondering about what other people are up to, checking their Twitter feed, etc.

Every moment that you think about someone else, they win! It's time taken away from your own work, your own independent thought and actions.

Being an original thinker is really hard (for me at least) - but as I get older, I think I get better - but I still struggle with feeling like a copycat and being scared to do things my own way.

I think one thing that helps is staying off social media and consuming less. What helps with that?

  • Writing every day: A form of creating and coming up with new ideas, no matter how small.
  • Running: A form of meditation. I think a lot on my runs, I'm forced to. Lots of new ideas and plans of action come from my runs.
  • Thinking: Just an extended period of time to think. Even something small like in the shower, or take a walk with no distractions. No TV, no computer, no phone.

The rent free meme is getting popular because it's especially poignant in this time. Followers are the new social currency, and those IG accounts with millions of followers, they are living rent free in your mind.

The rent free meme is a good thing, I think it's a fun way to help people understand how bad consumption can be.

February 17th, 2020
Sometimes it helps to just go cold turkey. It gives you a new perspective and does a bit of a "reset".

One time, I quit social media for a month, and I still think that was one of the most productive months of my life. 

I took it very seriously, and I think you have to because it's such a slippery slope. You check it once, and before you know, it you're checking every night, and then back to 100 times/day.

So this week, I'm quitting social media entirely. Only exception is if I need to research something (which I can do on incognito mode) or if I absolutely need to tweet something out for business purposes, or to create a YouTube video.

No analytics checking as well.

February and March are about focus. I booked my one-way flight to New York in April. Let's work hard to make Feb & March fruitful.

X
February 16th, 2020
Now that some people have told me they read this journal, and from the big Hacker News post, I feel it will be harder to be more honest.

However, I want to avoid that from happening. So I need to be even more honest. I don't want to hold anything back. If I hold something back, then that defeats the entire purpose of this whole thing, and I will just go create a new blog somewhere else.

So, let's talk about something that I need to get off my chest.

How do I know I need to get something off my chest? I have dreams about it, often. I feel that writing will help.

The last serious relationship I had ended a few years ago. And I don't think I'm over it.

I was the one who ended the relationship, and for me, that's actually the hardest part.

It's hard because, since then, there's always been this "what-if". What if I didn't end things? What if I knew back then what I know now? What if this was "the one"?

The thing is, I don't know. And that's what has always given me pause. In the 5 years passed, when I met a great girl, I would completely forget about her. But when I lost interest, I would think about her again. When I'm lonely, I think about what could have been.

Sometimes I remember all the great things about her. And that makes me think I did the wrong thing. And then I remember some of the reasons why we did break up. And that makes me think I did the right thing. I'm never completely sure.

If we had the opportunity to get back together, would I commit? I don't know - and that's me being 100% honest. I can't say for sure.  I feel like you just have to know. There should be no question in your mind, right?

However, I do feel that I've changed, a lot. Back in those days, I was right out of college. I thought there was "so much more" I needed to do in life and that a partner would hold me back. FOMO, or something like that.

I still have a bit of that mentality. I don't go out looking for a relationship. However, I do think that the right partner could make you feel like you can do more than you would than when you're single.

Just writing this helps.

February 15th, 2020
Here's something I noticed.

Being active on Twitter / Instagram / Reddit / other social media makes me not only less productive, but less motivated to work on my business.

Let's compare two time periods.

Two weeks ago

  • I hadn't been posting much on social media.
  • Mostly heads down working on features.
  • I was excited to work on these features.
  • I found myself in the zone for 3-4 hours at a time.
  • I could go to the library/coffee shop and just crush it.
  • I was in flow.
  • I was moving fast.
  • I was getting a lot done.
  • I was happy and excited.

This week

  • Posting a lot on social media, had a Hacker News post go viral.
  • Mostly checking social media, HN comments, responding to lots of emails and customer inquiries / support.
  • I was less excited to work on features. It felt more like a chore.
  • It was hard to get in the zone longer than 10 minutes.
  • I couldn't focus for long periods of time.
  • I was moving really slowly, it took me 3 days to do a feature that I think I could have crushed in 1.5 days.
  • I was nervous and reactive, in general.

It also has very little to do with money, this week was one of the best performing weeks for both Pigeon and Starter Story in terms of new customers.

I need to figure out how to stay in the mindstate of two weeks ago, even if it's at the expense of short term social media gains and even some revenue / customers.

I think that the key to success for me is to stay minimalistic in my digital endeavors. Create content but don't read comments. Stop checking analytics so damn much. I know it's something I'll look back on and wish I ignored almost completely.

February 14th, 2020
I've wanted to write about this for some time.

This is a story about a friend of mine.

She had a successful launch of a product, enough to get almost $2,000 MRR right out of the gate, as well as tons of press and praise. The launch went so well, that she dropped out of college, nearly on the spot.

Her product was really good. Really well designed, almost a point where I was jealous of her skills as a solo founder. My apps looked and worked pretty shitty, and I was like "damn, she's super legit at building products" - she's going to be very successful, very quickly.

But months went by after the launch, and she didn't seem to be making much progress.

I met up with her for the first time months after the launch (had only known her through online) and saw something that I'll never forget.

I saw fear. Fear to build. Fear to take action. Fear to move forward. Fear to do anything.

Paralyzed by fear.

She was analyzing "should I do this", "what if I do this", etc. From what I gathered, it seemed like it had been months of this analysis.

Because her products were starting to lose money, she started taking up side jobs, which were now a point of contention - every new job had issues in her life that consumed her mind.

While we talked, she was pondering questions of "am I building the right thing?". I was like... "are you kidding!?!". The only thing she needed to do was focus on this product and just keep working on it to take it to the next level. But instead, months had gone by of this analysis paralysis.

To me, she had everything. A validated product, existing paying customers that were evangelizing the product, and she personally had very strong product skills.

But for some reason, she was stuck in what, I think, was fear.

This is just my impression. I don't know the full story. But it was the overwhelming feeling I had when talking to her.

I'm not saying that this couldn't happen to me - the hardest part of when you're in something like that, is that you don't really know it.

February 13th, 2020
Here's a scenario. Last night, I watched this video by the Superhuman founder. Really interesting video about gamification and stuff.

Love learning this kind of thing, but for me, there's a downside.

The way the founder talks about his app is like it's the "holy grail" of startups - all the decisions they made were carefully calculated based on people's psychology and through data.

Don't get me wrong, I think that's really cool, but I watched the video too late at night, because I couldn't sleep thinking about "how I'm doing everything wrong" as a startup founder.

I know that's not necessarily true, but it's what this kind of startup content does to me.

Because after watching the video, I start going down a rabbit hole. I looked at the founder's past and whom he's connected with. VCs, YC, other smart founders, etc, etc.

"VCs never want to talk to me"

"YC rejected me."

"I guess I'm not cut out for this."

"What's wrong with ME? Why can't I be at that level?"

^^ These are all the negative thoughts that start to go through my head, all from a video.

And it's funny because that video was on the Andreesen Horowitz YouTube channel. They are an investor. This video is intended to make them look great and attract more investors, customers, or even an acquisition - to show how brilliant the founder is.

Everything is a journey. You can't expect to know it all, have it all right away. If it was easy to have those things, then everyone would have them.

We just don't see the journey of others because we only see them at one point in time.

Times like these remind me to go back and read the Elon Musk biography, or other biographies. It helps to put the length of the journey in context.

I'm sure the Superhuman founder went/goes through something like this in his life. Maybe earlier in his career. Maybe he feels that way about "bigger" companies than his, or in other areas of his life.

You can't compare yourself to others, so the advice to myself is to mostly STOP WATCHING this kind of thing. 

It's hard to completely avoid it though.

Here's a solution of mine. If you ever find yourself feeling jealous of someone's success:

1. Identify that feeling, be OK with it.
2. Reach out to that person, whether DM or email or tweet them or leave a comment on the post.
3. Congratulate them, ask them a question, maybe build some connection.

In my experience, the moment you connect with someone you lose all feelings of jealousy or envy. And who knows what happens after a small connection, and it's much better than staying in your own head.

February 12th, 2020
Yesterday I had a post hit the front page of Hacker News!

It was awesome - for many reasons - but really terrible for other reasons.

I didn't get much done yesterday other than checking comments, responding to messages, customer inquiries and lots of crap like that. This kind of "online social life" comes at a big cost for me.

When I'm "laying low", I'm crushing it in terms of productivity - shipping big features and staying on top of everything. I rarely check Twitter because there's nothing there.

But being active on Twitter and blogging and making YouTube videos does help my business and helping other entrepreneurs by sharing my story. I'm pretty sure it doesn't make me happier though.

This year, I want to figure out how to balance that. How to stay off Twitter even if I'm getting lots of likes, notifications, etc. I think it's something that comes with practice.

*checks Twitter*

February 11th, 2020
One of my favorite creators is Anthony Fantano. He is a music critic, who made it "big" with his channel theneedledrop on YouTube.

I recently came across this video, which is a bit of a behind the scenes on his life.

I really look up to the life that he's built. He went from making pizza to slowly building a sustainable income from reviewing music on YouTube. His audience is massive, but also extremely engaged.

It's admirable how he has never "caved" or sold out to the music industry. In this video:

I love music, but I don't necessarily love the music industry.

This is how I feel about startups as well. He says he has no interest in "rubbing elbows" with the who's who of the industry. 

He has turned down lucrative offers to join the industry and stay independent.

His "come up" has always been predicated on hard work. He's not interested in "going viral", like most YouTubers, but instead he builds his business around putting out great content every day.

He says he enjoys the grind, working hard, and living a quiet life in Connecticut. Although he has a wildly popular public persona, he's very quiet about his personal life, which allows him to "turn it off" when he needs.

I'd recommend watching that video. I learned a lot.

February 10th, 2020
Lately, I've been seeing a TON of Starter Story "clones". I don't mean this in a bad way, I think it's awesome that people are inspired or at least interested in building a business with a similar business model. Here's a working list of all of them:

Starter Story was influenced by Indie Hackers in its early days, so Starter Story is a "clone" too.

Not all of these are necessarily clones, and some even started before I did.


  • Creator Mindset: Stories of creators
  • Project Hatch: Stories of entrepreneurs
  • Course Method: Learn from successful course sellers
  • How I Started: How entrepreneurs got started
  • Bulk Hackers: Learn from fitness experts
  • Food Truck Empire: Learn from food entrepreneurs
  • The Biz Ladies: Women Entrepreneurs Stories
  • No CS Degree: Learn from self-taught developers
  • How I Joined Tech: How people of color joined the tech industry
  • Women Hustlers: Learn From Successful Women Founders

Will think of more...

February 9th, 2020
This is my process to develop a feature quickly and efficiently.

I am, by no means, an expert at programming, design, product, UX, etc. In fact, I'm pretty mediocre at all of those. So take this with a grain of salt.

The hardest thing (for me) about building a feature is the "scope" of it. Before the feature is even planned, I have something in my head that I want to do, or something that needs to be improved in my app.

For this post, let's use an example.

The thought in my head was:

"I want to improve the filters on Starter Story. If we expose these filters, it may lead to more signups, more money, and more people thinking the site is cool. We have been collecting a lot more data on businesses but we still haven't exposed these filters on the website."

Now, at some point that turns into an item on Notion roadmap/board, like this:


Notion Kanban item


Now it's a feature, and I've planned that I want to implement it today.

This is the hard part. Where do you start? And how do maximize your time spent and get this feature shipped?

Checklists. Checklists. Checklists.

In that same Notion item, I open it up and create a checklist.

Early stages of the building the feature

This is how the checklist looks at the beginning, I usually put some basic stuff in the beginning. And some of the more "meat" at the end.

Why? Doing small, easy things makes it easier to get started.

  • As I start implementing each small item on the list, I check it off.
  • As I'm building, I will think about more and more things I want or need to do. I'll keep adding those to the end of the list.

Mid stages of the feature


What usually happens is that I find random things I would never have found "as I go". Sometimes these aren't always "need to have". That's OK, you can still throw them on the list, and never implement them.

The important thing is that you just get them out of your mind so you can keep making progress on the feature.

As I get to the end, I'll have lots of "cleanup" stuff, like making sure everything fits on mobile, edge cases, etc.

End stages of the feature


At this point, I will probably knock off a few things that are "nice to have" and maybe throw those in a "someday" bin.

And then I'm done!

I find the checklist method to be an amazing way to break up even a small feature like the one here.

The end result? A very quickly developed feature.

Here is the end result of the feature, btw.

I recently came across this video that confirmed my checklists thing works!

February 8th, 2020
Sometimes I wonder if I'm leaving too much on the table.

Like, I could be more aggressive with my monetization strategy for Starter Story, or just more aggressive in general.

And sometimes I think that maybe not being aggressive enough could be what kills my business, or limits my potential as an entrepreneur.

Sometimes, I think I'm not money-hungry enough. It's pretty scary to think about for me.

February 7th, 2020
Maybe it helps some other devs out there (to find an idea or something to work on), but here are the services that I pay for to run my business:

  • Heroku (~$200/month): Running 3 different projects, and some with jobs servers as well
  • Upwork (~$1000/month): Freelancers. I especially use Upwork because I don't have to think about all the billing stuff and time tracking, etc.
  • Sentry ($29/month): Absolutely essential for catching bugs fast. I started with freemium and then they eventually *got* me on # of errors/usage.
  • Klaviyo: Send emails to all my lists.
  • SendGrid ($15/month): To send various transactional emails. Like Sentry, I started for free and then they nabbed as email volume increased.
  • G Suite ($6/month): For Starter Story email address.
  • Stripe (Fees): Obvious.
  • Buffer ($15/month): For social media automation. I use their API, it's amazing. Lived off their free plan forever until I wanted to automate LinkedIn posts 
  • Placid ($19/month): For automation of social sharing images, OG images, social media.
  • Blogcast (~$30/month): Automatically creates audio versions of blog posts for Starter Story.
  • Simple Analytics ($19/month): Privacy-focused analytics that I use for this blog you're reading right now.
  • Mailbrew ($15/month): Sends me an email every day of any Starter Story mentions and other automations so I can stay off Twitter.
  • Adobe Premiere ($22/month): Video editing software.
  • AWS ($10/month): S3 and I also use the Alexa API.
  • WIP.chat ($20/month): Chat community for makers. If it weren't for WIP, I don't know if I would have made it in the early days.
  • Nomad List (~$8/month): Community for digital nomads. Makes it really easy to find cheap places to live/work.
  • Notion ($5/month): Somehow they nabbed me off their free plan. I can't remember really.
  • Cloudflare ($5/month): I pay extra for some of the rate-limiting features.
  • Pigeon CRM for Gmail: ($19/month): To run operations at Starter Story. Yes I pay for my own app! I think it's important to see that charge come in every month :)
  • Various: (~$100/month): Accountant + domains + I have a small budget to support indie makers with one-time payments and some Patreon subscriptions as well.

What I would pay for but somehow get away with the free plan:

  • Crisp.chat. Use this religiously to talk with leads and customers for Pigeon
  • Loom. Crazy how much value is in this software.
  • Calendly. Used this a ton in the early days of Pigeon.
  • Strava. Still living off the free plan.
  • Email Hunter. Amazing for getting email addresses. Their API is clutch.

Will think of more as they come.

February 6th, 2020
I got a new haircut. Nobody noticed.
I lost 15 lbs. Nobody noticed.
I got new glasses. Nobody noticed.

My server crashed for an hour. Nobody said anything.
I write a public daily journal. Nobody reads it.
I made a YouTube channel. Nobody watches.

I was interviewed on a high profile tech publication. The interview was paywalled. Everyone congratulated me. Nobody actually cared to read it enough to even notice it was paywalled. Lol!

Nobody cares. About much but themselves.

EDIT: I mean this in a good way! Knowing that nobody cares means you should do whatever the fuck you want. And to stop thinking about how people will react to the things you decide and do!

February 5th, 2020
When I did the 24 Hour Startup Challenge, one of the things we did was interview successful entrepreneurs. I had a list of people I thought would be cool to interview.

- reach out to derek sivers
- he rejects me
- still asks about me / get to know
- we chat a bit
- he follows me on twitter (nice move)
- he asks me to follow his newsletter
- been following him ever since, and an even bigger fan now

too tired to write this right now.... but will get get back to it soon

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February 4th, 2020
A prediction...

I think the "makers" and indie businesses space will start moving towards more selling of courses, books, sponsor supported businesses.

It's just a lot easier to "make a dollar" with these types of businesses. Although the dream is to have a recurring SaaS business, the friction and time it takes make it a lot harder to justify, when making money as a creator is much simpler.

As the space grows and we see more "success stories" from businesses like these, for example this milestone, it will influence the newcomers to do similar.

There is also a negative stigma with courses and e-books, but I also think that will start to go away too.

I used to be more judgemental of these kinds of business models, but lately, I think I'm kind of over that. I don't intend to start a business like that though, although I'm more open to it than I used to be.

February 3rd, 2020
Don't have much to say, but back in the flow today and it felt good.

Maybe because it was the beginning of the month, first business day back, and I felt good about last month's progress and excited for February and have some big goals.

Some days are just really nice like that. Have to cherish those.

February 2nd, 2020
this is excerpt of a monthly email I send to stakeholders

Hi!

This email is a monthly review/retro of how we did for January 2020. I send this to stakeholders, friends & colleagues to keep you updated, and also so I can stay accountable! No pressure to read at all and definitely no pressure to respond - and if you don't want me to send it to you, just let me know.

January 2020, tldr:

the good

- Biggest month all time for revenue, traffic, # of content, increase in email list! 
- January is always a great month for the business because of New Year's resolutions. 
- Pigeon has been finally approved by Google (a 6 month process) and the future looks good.
- Starter Story premium membership is growing and we will put more focus there

the bad

- got banned from reddit
- trying to stay on top of everything getting trickier

Numbers:

- Total Revenue: $8,547 (90% Starter Story / 10% Pigeon)
- Starter Story Traffic: 106K uniques / 138K sessions / 176K pageviews
- Interviews published: 76!
- Email List: 11,418 total subscribers (+1,229 subscribers)
- Starter Story Premium paying users: 99
- Pigeon active paying users: 28

What got done / what went well:

- We published 76 interviews in the month of January! That is an all-time high. The goal is to keep working to increase this number each month, so that we are at 180 interviews/month.
- We started parsing data from interviews to get testimonials / reviews. See "Reviews" section here.
- Alternatives pages launched, example.
- New roundup content launched (email marketing list) - will continue to do more "lists" like these.
- Google audit complete for Pigeon, which has allowed us to add a free trial and users can sign up on their own / self-serve.
- Added a free trial for Pigeon now
- Set high level plan to consolidate Starter Story and Pigeon. Pigeon will slowly become a part of Starter Story, rather than running two separate businesses. And we now look at revenue number as a whole. More on this over the next couple months.
- Shipped tons more pigeon features (email tracking / link tracking / attachments on emails / skip weekends on follow ups / more zapier integrations)
- Pinterest reach increasing (~200k monthly impressions)
- Added the ability to leave on comment on Starter Story without logging in.

Goals for February:

- Increase value for starter story membership
(onboarding email drip, send "special" early newsletter, more filters, ask people why they canceled, data export feature, subscription details, discounts on tools, establish plan for premium community)
- 80 interviews
- Increase content offering through new articles (a true "get started" index page, 8 new roundup posts, 5 more pigeon case studies, backfill testimonials for all old stories, more filters on backend / tags / topics)
- Improve onboarding and make features more reliable for pigeon (onboarding email drip, perfect the email tracking features, perfect the templates features, improve onboarding experience, establish a plan for the move to freemium)
- Ship new pigeon features (more smart columns, Reporting / data export feature, suggested actions feature, free trial without CC)
- Build MVP for "self serve" interviews (self service interviews (MVP) for inbound, fix all the messed up user stuff, social logins)
- Better and more leads for starter story (find more sources for leads, establish plan for new types of businesses we want to interview, put starter story on "lists" around the internet)

Thanks for reading!

February 1st, 2020
My last post talked about January and my 2020 new hobby project.

This month, I pick my new hobby to be FICTION BOOKS.

Tbh, I've never really got into fiction, but I feel like I need to.

I will start with The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy.

My goal is to read at least 25 pages/day, of all books, hopefully more as I get into it!

January 31st, 2020
January is over!

One of my goals for 2020 is to try new things, learn new skills, each month.

In January I wanted to get better at cooking, preparing food, doing meal prep, etc.

It was awesome! I learned how to cook lots of plant-based stuff like:

  • pastas
  • sweet potato dishes
  • how to cook lentils
  • how to cook rice (crazy, i know)
  • how to cook stir fry

I watched YouTube videos and then went to the store weekly, and then made dishes every night. Often, I would cook for myself after a long day of work, which I found to be a relaxing experience. I loved listening to music and cooking.

I would often make dinner, and then save the leftovers for the next day for lunch, or for dinner a 2nd time.

I could pack up my lunches and take them to the library or coffee shop as well.

I BARELY ate out all month, and I saved a lot of money.

Towards the middle and end of the month, though, I got lazy. I found myself cooking just basic stuff, like rice and beans, and that was enough for me. But I'm happy with that. I now have a system where I can cook rice, beans, and veggies once a week and have that last for a really long time! Honestly, I'm not a huge foodie. I don't mind eating simple foods, like rice and beans and some hot sauce, and I genuinely believe it's a healthy diet (esp as a runner).

Will I continue to cook lavishly after this month? No. But I did get better and more confident at cooking, and now I really know how to eat on the CHEAP!

My next blog post will be about my February hobby!