Inside My Brain

Thoughts about startups, tech, marketing, and life

How more empathy can improve our f*cked up world

I haven’t blogged in a bit, and it’s sad that this is the type of post that I felt compelled to write. Regardless, I have something to get off my chest.

I want to talk about how fucked up our world is right now.

Terrorist attacks. Racist shootings. Mass shootingsCampus rapes. And so many other horrible things are going on this minute.

Discrimination, disagreement, dissent, and disharmony is all around us. There’s so much angst everywhere. The tension is palpable.

While it can’t be boiled down to a single factor, I think a lot of the hatred in our world stems from a lack of empathy.

A prime cause of terrorism is the fact that some people so radically believe in their religion that any other faith or way of life is unacceptable. So attacks are planned and executed. Then bombs are dropped to retaliate against terrorists organizations, and civilian casualties happen (oh well!). Then the terrorist reciprocate, and a vicious cycle starts and continues.

Racist people don’t understand what others go through day in, day out, simply for having different colored skin, and they don’t care. That person of a different ethnicity can be super educated, extremely friendly, and very helpful, but the racist person doesn’t give a shit.

The NRA can’t fathom how the families of victims of mass shootings feel and won’t do a damn thing about it. And the people who execute these mass shootings do it from a place of hatred for another way of life that’s different from their own.

While alcohol many times muddies the true story of campus sexual assault, there is a fundamental absence of empathy in many of the parties involved. Drunk students take advantage of other drunk students with little regard of how the victim may feel or the consequences of their actions. The victim may accuse someone of rape even though the story is unclear, not thinking about how a simple accusation can significantly alter that person’s life for the worse. And the parents of the accused or accuser many times don’t understand (or care to understand) what the other family is going through. I have a 14-month old daughter and I am terrified to send her to college 17 years from now. If I had a son, I’d still be extremely nervous about what can potentially happen on campus.

Truthfully, I don’t know if any protest we take part in, petition that we sign, or letter to our senator that we write will change anything.

I don’t think our government is capable of making things right.

But I think we can do our part everyday to better this world by being more empathetic.

It can be simple as putting yourself in someone else’s shoes when you’re in an argument to help see the other side of things.

Or you can be a little nicer to that person who isn’t like you.

And even when a terrorist or mass murderer performs a horrific act of violence, understanding why they did so and attempting to address the underlying problem, instead of simply calling for vengeance, can help avoid future catastrophes.

I believe that empathy is one of the most important characteristics that someone can have, and it is something that can be learned.

And I believe that if more people were more empathetic of others’ situations, we can avoid a lot of the conflict that is occurring today.

And I believe that we can all do our part to make the world a more empathetic place right now, tomorrow, next week, next month, next year, and for the rest of our lives.

Sorry for the rant.

Reflecting on my life and career paths on my 38th birthday

the thinker

It’s my 38th birthday today. Happy birthday to me.

38 isn’t a nice round age like 30 or 40, where most people reflect on and ponder about their lives. But I’ll do it anyway because I have a lot to reflect on.

15 years ago, I was a consultant in San Francisco. I traveled a lot for work, made some decent coin out of grad school, and lived a single guy’s life. I had a great group of friends, got drunk at least 3 times a week, and pretty much did whatever the hell I wanted to do at any time I wanted to do it.

10 years ago, I was in business school in NYC pursuing a career in sports marketing. I was learning a lot and making some great connections. I was also having a lot of fun with my b-school friends as well as my childhood buddies, whom I hadn’t lived close to in a long time.

My head was kind of fucked up though. I lost my Dad to cancer a few months prior, and wasn’t sure how to deal with that loss (I drank a lot). And I was pursuing a non-traditional, low-paying career while many of my friends expected to make loot pursuing their banking and consulting jobs. This was difficult to deal with and I many times doubted my choices.

5 years ago, I had my dream job in sports marketing, working for the Washington Capitals. It was right where I wanted to be and I was doing really well. I was fully settled in to DC (it took a while after living in San Francisco and NYC) and started to really dig the city and what it had to offer. I wasn’t quite married yet, but was well on my way.

Now, I’m married to my soulmate, have a wonderful daughter, and own a beautiful home. It’s a lot of fun seeing my daughter grow up, but it’s still odd to me that I’m responsible for this little person’s life. It’s really awesome and rewarding, though.

Career-wise, I’m kind of this hybrid employee / entrepreneur. I work for a software development firm, but the CEO is my co-founder in our startup ribl, which we’re barely working on nowadays. I host my own podcast. I volunteer my time organizing Startup Weekend DC events. I’m not exactly where I want to be, which is working on our startup (whatever the product may be) full-time, but we’ll get there. I think.

Except for my Dad’s passing, my life arc is going pretty much as planned, and I am exactly where I want to and should be.

What does my career arc tell me? It either tells me that 1) I like change, or 2) I have no idea what the fuck I am doing with my career, or 3) both.

I’ve been open to taking the road less traveled with my career; it keeps things fresh and exciting.

But there are still so many things that I want to do.

And there’s a lot of doubt about whether I’m making the right choices and going down the right path. One day I’m confident, other days less so.

I’ve had 38 years to figure it out, but I guess I need more time.

Taking a break from blogging

I think taking breaks are healthy.

For instance, I’m a big fan of the Pomodoro Technique, where you work without distraction for 25 minutes straight, then take a break for 5 minutes, and repeat that throughout the day. It’s a great technique that has made me more productive.

And of course, vacations are necessary to get away from work, rest, and recharge the batteries.

So I’m going to take a break from blogging.

The past couple of weeks I’ve been struggling to come up with ideas and crank out articles. While it always has been a bit of a burden to write so often, I welcomed that burden for a while.

Lately I haven’t felt the same way.

And because I pretty much blog first thing in the morning, blogging sets the tone for the rest of the day. In the early days, I was excited to write each morning. And I felt good when I published a post and used that momentum to jump into my next task.

But recently blogging has been slowing me down. Because it’s been hard for me to write, I slog through the first task of my day. And the rest of my day follows accordingly.

My productivity has taken a hit, and something needs to change.

So I’m going to stop blogging for a while and see how it feels.

If I miss it, I’ll start it up again in some capacity.

If I don’t miss it and find that I’m much more productive without blogging, I’ll assess what I should do at that time.

For now, I’m taking a break.

Let’s see what happens!

What do you think about me taking a break from blogging, or taking breaks in general? I’d love to hear from you. Write your thoughts in the comments, tweet at me @mikewchan, or email me at mike@mikewchan.com.

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article with the share buttons on the left. Then sign up for my email list below and connect with me onTwitter for future updates. And check out my podcast at GoandGrowPodcast.com!

It only takes one

one championship

There are a few things in life where it only takes one, and then you’re pretty much set.

But these things are really hard to achieve.

A sports championship. A strong marriage. A successful startup exit.

So many things have to go right in order to attain these accomplishments.

There are so many great pro athletes who haven’t won championships. Dan Marino of the Miami Dolphins was one of the most prolific QBs of all time and couldn’t win a Super Bowl. Patrick Ewing of the NY Knicks is one of the all-time great centers, and he never won an NBA title. Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals has been the NHL’s best scorer since he’s been in the league and hasn’t yet raised the Stanley Cup. Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox may be the best MLB hitter ever and never captured a World Series.

Getting a date is pretty easy, finding the right spouse is hard. You need to be able to connect with someone on multiple levels, and the other person needs to be able to connect with you. You have to be attracted to each other, physically and emotionally. And your lives have to be in the same stage, or it won’t work.

It is so hard to build a successful business and sell it or go public. Over 90% of startups fail, and many more won’t ever see an exit. That’s a tough pill to swallow.

All of these are so difficult to achieve because they require hard work, a great team (yes, you and your spouse should be a team), and good timing. If one of these factors are off, it will be tough to find success.

But because it’s so hard to obtain these accomplishments, it may only take one to be happy and satisfied.

And that makes them worth fighting for.

What are your thoughts about these “only one” accomplishments? I’d love to hear from you. Write your thoughts in the comments, tweet at me @mikewchan, or email me at mike@mikewchan.com.

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article with the share buttons on the left. Then sign up for my email list below and connect with me on Twitter for future updates. And check out my podcast at GoandGrowPodcast.com!

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

If making history was easy, why bother?

After the Golden State Warriors’ game 4 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, Kobe Bryant sent a text to Warriors power forward Draymond Green that said, “If making history was easy, why bother?”

I love that.

Why bother with doing anything that’s difficult? Why bother with pushing yourself to be better? Why bother with getting out of your comfort zone?

Because accomplishing something difficult feels good. Doing something that’s hard helps you improve. And learning a new skill or craft keeps things interesting.

If something comes really easy, it’s probably not worth doing.

There are instances where it’s OK to take the easy way out, as there may be better ways to spend your time.

Pay for that mechanic instead of learning how to change your oil. Buy that sprinkler system instead of watering your lawn by hand. Automate some processes and workflows to achieve scale and efficiency.

But for the things that matter, like making customers happy, forging strong relationships, and constantly improving, you have to bother with putting forth more effort. Because doing those things may be what you need to make history.

What are your thoughts about doing hard things? I’d love to hear from you. Write your thoughts in the comments, tweet at me @mikewchan, or email me at mike@mikewchan.com.

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article with the share buttons on the left. Then sign up for my email list below and connect with me on Twitter for future updates. And check out my podcast at GoandGrowPodcast.com!

One-on-one attention vs. automation

Paul Graham, founder of accelerator Y Combinator, wrote a famous startup essay called “Do things that don’t scale.” Give it a read, I’ll still be here. :)

Graham said that in order to get your startup off the ground, you need to do things that might take a lot of time – like engaging your potential customers one-to-one and building your own hardware – and eschew automation and outsourcing.

He cited companies like Airbnb going to door-to-door to recruit users, or hardware startup Meraki assembling their own routers, in the early days.

Talking with your customers in person, via Skype, or on the phone is so much more valuable than sending them a link to a survey.

I think automation is a powerful concept that can lead to increased efficiency, productivity, and scale.

But it has to be used in the right context.

If automation isn’t natural, it can backfire.

Sales automation is a hot topic these days. Sales reps and account managers have tools that help them automate their emails to prospects in order to move them closer to a deal.

I get a lot of emails that come from these automation programs and I can see right through them.

I would have welcomed a single phone call instead of five perfectly-timed, unnatural emails.

Anyway, that’s my rant for the day. Like I said, automation can be really powerful, but many times doing something with a personal touch that doesn’t scale is the better way to go.

What are your thoughts about doing things that don’t scale? I’d love to hear from you. Write your thoughts in the comments, tweet at me @mikewchan, or email me at mike@mikewchan.com.

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article with the share buttons on the left. Then sign up for my email list below and connect with me on Twitter for future updates. And check out my podcast at GoandGrowPodcast.com!

I wrote an e-book! Is a full-length book next?

Books

Yay! I wrote and launched my first e-book!

It’s called “10 Apps You Can Use to Maximize Your Productivity.” Click here to learn more and download it, I’d appreciate it! I hope it helps you become more productive.

While the e-book is pretty simple, it took a long time for me to write it and have it designed, so I’m pretty proud of it.

Writing that e-book got me thinking about whether I should write a full-length book.

I’ve blogged a lot and think often about my career, and careers in general. I actually have a few long essays about careers that I haven’t yet published, which might be the foundation of the book.

This wouldn’t be a “how to become a millionaire” book –  I don’t know sh*t about that.

Nor will this be a “find your dream job” book – I haven’t found mine, so I’m no expert there.

It might be something along the lines of “how not to f*ck up your career.”

I don’t really think I’ve (totally) f*cked up my career. But I’ve already had three or four careers in my life, so I’ve learned a lot about what to do and what not to do. And I think I could write both an entertaining and educational story based on my experiences.

What do you think? Should I write a book? And would you read it? I’d love to hear your feedback!

Write your thoughts in the comments, tweet at me @mikewchan, or email me at mike@mikewchan.com.

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article with the share buttons on the left. Then sign up for my email list below and connect with me onTwitter for future updates. And check out my podcast at GoandGrowPodcast.com!

Why I disagree that startup ideas are worthless

pen-idea-bulb-paper

In the startup world, most will say that an idea is worthless, and it’s all about execution.

I disagree.

Of course, execution is absolutely essential, and an idea with zero execution is worthless.

But coming up with many possible ideas and selecting the right idea is very, very important.

If your idea is a social network for doorknobs, I don’t care how well you execute, you’re not going to build a successful business.

Most people in the startup world say to focus on the problem, not the idea.

I do agree with that.

Identifying a big problem is one of the most important things you can do at the early stages of building a company.

But coming up with ideas of how to solve that problem creatively and uniquely is so important as well.

Most of the time, a good idea isn’t something that just pops into your head randomly while brainstorming with a few pints of beer.

Ideas are the result of experience and knowledge of a particular subject matter.

Ideas can be forged while talking to potential and current customers and subject matter experts.

Good ideas are created by research, testing, and insight.

The act of coming up with ideas is a process. And an important one.

First Round Capital partner Josh Kopelman, one of the most successful and influential venture capitalists, says that most entrepreneurs don’t spend enough time on idea selection (see bullet point #2 of this blog post).

In my mind, creating and selecting the right idea is just as important as identifying the problem and executing at a high level.

Do you agree or disagree?

I’d love to hear from you. Write your thoughts in the comments, tweet at me @mikewchan, or email me at mike@mikewchan.com.

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article with the share buttons on the left. Then sign up for my email list below and connect with me onTwitter for future updates. And check out my podcast at GoandGrowPodcast.com!

Why you should always work to build equity

equity

Equity is a word that has many meanings in different contexts.

In its truest form, equity means fairness and impartiality.

In startups, equity is how much of a company you own.

In finance and accounting, equity is the difference between the value of your assets and the cost of your liabilities.

In marketing, brand equity is the value of having a well-known brand name, which allows you to beat your lesser-known competitors.

In real estate, owning a home gives you equity, as opposed to renting.

Equity is an extremely important and beneficial thing to acquire, which is why you should always look to build equity regardless of the context.

Equity requires a longer-term mindset, rather than seeking short-term wins.

In your career, your salary isn’t likely going to make you rich. Ownership in a successful business will.

In marketing and business, companies who seek to maximize short-term profit instead of building long-term customer loyalty will always lose. If you take care of your customers, you will build brand equity with them, and they’ll become repeat buyers as well as advocates. Zappos is a great example of this.

On the personal side, being fair with family, friends, and other people in your life will help you have lasting, more fruitful relationships.

No matter what the situation, whether it’s your career or personal life, building equity will always leave you better off in the long run.

What do you think about building equity? In what ways have you sacrificed short-term wins for long-term gain?

I’d love to hear from you. Write your thoughts in the comments, tweet at me @mikewchan, or email me at mike@mikewchan.com.

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article with the share buttons on the left. Then sign up for my email list below and connect with me on Twitter for future updates. And check out my podcast at GoandGrowPodcast.com!

Photo courtesy of The Blue Diamond Gallery

 

Listening vs. hearing – what’s the difference and which is more important?

LIstening vs. hearing - White Men Can't Jump

While listening and hearing may seem similar, they are very different. And maybe in a way you may not expect.

You might hear in the background a song on the radio, a show on TV, or a friend speaking, and may not be actively listening. You should always listen to your friends, BTW.

By this definition, listening requires more attention and cognizance.

That’s true, but let’s take it a step further.

In the classic movie White Men Can’t Jump, Wesley Snipes says to Woody Harrelson, “There’s a difference between hearing and listening. White people, you can’t hear Jimi (Hendrix)!”

You can listen to someone, but it takes that much more attention, thought, and empathy to really hear someone.

That’s what Wesley Snipes was saying – that white people couldn’t understand where Jimi was coming from.

So while hearing does come before listening, it also comes after.

Hearing equals understanding and empathizing with what or whom you’re listening to.

In careers where you work with clients or sell to potential customers, you have to be a really good listener.

And when you hit the point where when you actually hear someone and understand them, it’s a beautiful thing. There’s this moment of clarity where you realize that you’re just on the same page with someone, and at that point you can deliver the most value.

Next time you’re listening to someone speak, or sing, or act, really try to hear them. I think the interaction will be much more valuable.

What do you think about the difference between listening and hearing?

I’d love to hear from you. Write your thoughts in the comments, tweet at me @mikewchan, or email me at mike@mikewchan.com.

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article with the share buttons on the left. Then sign up for my email list below and connect with me on Twitter for future updates. And check out my podcast at GoandGrowPodcast.com!

Photo courtesy of YouTube