Inside My Brain

Thoughts about startups, tech, marketing, and life

CATEGORY: 30 days of blogging

Do one small task to get going

When faced with starting a huge project (or business, for that matter), many times we don’t know where to start. There’s just too much to think about and so much to do that it’s overwhelming.

At that stage, many people get stuck strategizing, planning, and just thinking about what to do, instead of actually doing anything.

This problem is a killer of ideas and dreams.

When faced with this problem, the best thing to do is to identify one small task and just get it done. Stop overthinking the massive project in front of you.

Rather, find that initial task that you can execute to get the process going. That will lead to a small win, which will lead to the motivation to execute the next small task, and so and so forth. The next thing you know your huge project will be all done!

I’m not downplaying the importance of strategy and planning, not at all. I’m saying that at some point, you just have to get going.

One example that sticks out to me is starting a podcast.

Since I’ve started my podcast, I’ve spoken with some people who are thinking about starting their own.

They tell me that they’ve thought about what their topic will be, what the format will be like, who they want to interview, what their website will look like, and so on and so forth.

“That’s great, you should totally start a podcast,” I say. “How long have you been thinking about all this?”

“Oh, for a few months now.”

Yikes.

I them tell them to buy a mic, and give them the info of the mic I own, which only costs about $50.

Why buy a mic? Because you can set it up on your desk immediately and that mic will scream “Use me!” every single day.

That constant reminder will force you to accelerate your activity and keep moving ahead to execute that next task. And the fact that you spent a little bit of cash on something that you should use will provide some motivation as well.

Again, I think it’s very important to plan and strategize. But plans and strategies are worthless until you actually execute.

And executing that one task that will get you to the next task is so important.

So when you’re faced with a huge, daunting project, take a minute to think about that first task that can get you kickstarted.

It’s amazing what you can get done once you get going.

This is day 10 of my experiment to blog for 30 consecutive days.

My rant about the Yelp employee’s rant on Medium

A few days ago, a now former Yelp employee penned an open letter to her CEO on Medium about how she doesn’t get paid enough to get by living in San Francisco.

The way she ended the article was ridiculous – she updated the article saying that she had been let go, and she would appreciate any help finding her next job. Then she provided info for her PayPal, Venmo, and Square Cash accounts. Wow.

I have some opinions on this matter.

First of all, I truly believe that everyone has a voice, no matter how low on the totem pole you are in a company or in society, for that matter. Medium and other social networks have allowed us to make our voices heard and build an audience that we may never have had access to in the past.

But there are right ways to use this voice. And this, in my mind, was the absolute wrong way.

Speak with your coworkers. Maybe they are having the same struggles, and it’s a company-wide issue that you can approach HR with.

Speak with your boss. Maybe you can create a plan where you can attain performance goals in order to get a raise.

I think this just wasn’t the way to go about using your voice.

My second point addresses the issue of work ethic.

Maybe it’s a generational difference, maybe it’s not.

I’m not going to say that it’s a “millennial thing” and that millennials believe they are all entitled. The only evidence I have of that is in the articles that I read online. I’ve worked with millennials in the past and have never felt that they were entitled.

If you’re not getting paid enough, work harder and talk to your manager to see if that hard work can get rewarded. If you need to make ends meet, get a side gig. Or just find another full-time job.

I can’t say that I’ve ever been in her position, but I’ve certainly worked hard for what I have and when things got tough, I put my head down and found a solution. Millions of other people are in tougher situations, with no college education and mouths to feed. They figure it out everyday.

The final thing I’d like to address is her decision making abilities. She had options. She could make a choice to move to another company. Or another state. She could have spoken to someone else about it, and not complain over the internet. She made a really bad decision that cost her a job. Maybe others will praise her courage and hire her, and that’s fine. Personally, I doubt her ability to make sound decisions.

Rant over.

This is day 9 of my experiment to blog for 30 consecutive days.

Remembering the ones that inspired you

Today, February 22, 2016, would have been my Dad’s 68th birthday. He passed away from nasopharyngeal cancer in 2005.

I owe a lot of my life and career to my Dad’s wisdom and the path that he took through life.

He was an entrepreneur by necessity, not really by choice. And I believe his words and actions led me to become an entrepreneur.

My parents had a great life in Malaysia but moved to the US to provide a better life for my sister and me. When they moved to America, my Dad worked in various restaurants and fast-food joints. He learned a lot about the business and eventually opened a few restaurants of his own.

But because being an entrepreneur was really tough, he didn’t always sing its praises, and actually sometimes gave me conflicting advice about where I should take my career.

“It’s tough working for other people” would sometimes be followed by “but a stable job with a big company that pays you a lot is good.”

“The only way to be happy is to work for yourself” would be accompanied by “but running your own business is really hard.”

I didn’t quite understand what he meant until now, because I’ve experienced those feelings the last 3.5 years I’ve been an entrepreneur.

I’ve found out about the ups and downs of being on your own. So I totally get where my Dad was coming from, even though it confused the hell out of me when I was younger.

And I actually pass on this conflicting advice to those who ask me about becoming an entrepreneur, because it’s totally spot on.

Today, I think my Dad would be proud of the path I chose, but he’d still ask why I don’t have a corporate job that pays a lot. 🙂

Miss you and love you everyday, Dad.

This is day 8 of my experiment to blog for 30 consecutive days.

Opportunity cost of your career decisions

Opportunity cost is such a powerful concept that can both hold you back or propel you in making decisions, depending on your situation.

According to Investopedia, opportunity cost is defined as the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen.

Put another way, what you missed out on if you selected another option.

For instance, let’s say you’re considering attending business school and you’re analyzing whether it will be a good investment. A core component of this return on investment calculation is how much getting your MBA will cost. You take into account tuition, rent, books, food, and other costs into your calculations.

But you also should include the salary that you’ll lose out on by not working for two years. That’s a very direct application of opportunity cost.

As an entrepreneur, I think a lot about opportunity cost.

I sometimes think about the six-figure salary I could be making if I had a corporate job. Or whether I should be spending time on another task instead of the one I’m doing right now. Or whether I should spend money on a Subway sandwich instead of that sushi dinner.

Those are kind of negative applications of opportunity cost.

I also believe that thinking about opportunity cost led me to be an entrepreneur, which to me is a very positive application of the concept.

When I was making the decision to leave my job at the Washington Capitals to head out on my own, I thought about the consequences if I failed. If entrepreneurship didn’t go as planned, could I ever find a job as good as the one I had now? Would my boss and team be as great at my next company? Would I be able to break back into the sports industry?

I contemplated long and hard about those questions. But the thought that kept coming back to me was what I would miss out on if I didn’t take a chance, and how I might regret, 40 or 50 years down the road, not taking the leap into entrepreneurship.

The potential opportunity cost of regret and disappointment of not taking a chance led me to be an entrepreneur, and I’ve happily sacrificed all of the other opportunity costs involved.

This is day 7 of my experiment to blog for 30 consecutive days.

The “Why” drives everything

Understanding why we set goals and why we do things to reach that goal should drive everything.

The “why” should be the north star for all we do.

In an organization, you can equate this to values or mission. Whatever you want to call it, it’s important to understand and focus on why you’re doing things.

For instance, Spirit Airlines’ goal is to be the ultra-low cost airline.

So they don’t make you pay for anything you don’t want to pay for, unbundling all of the services that other airlines offer as a package.

Carry-on and checked bags aren’t included in your fare. Drinks and peanuts aren’t handed out for “free.” There aren’t any TVs on the plane.

Why? Because Spirit wants to be the ultra-low cost airline and offer you the lowest fares. Everything they do is aligned with this “why.”

If you’re paying a higher fare that includes checked bags but you don’t check any bags, you’re paying more than you need to. If you don’t drink any drinks or eat any peanuts, you’re paying more than you need to. TVs weigh down the plane and make it less efficient, so you’re paying more than you need to.

You might not like the model, but Spirit Airlines is driven by “why.”

My goal for this experiment is to blog for 30 consecutive days. Why am I doing this? To see if blogging and writing can become an everyday habit for me.

So everything I do while blogging for 30 these days lends itself to making this a habit.

I’ve discovered what I don’t like about blogging – finding images, doing research, linking to other articles and resources, reading and re-reading my posts for grammatical and punctuation errors) – and I’m minimizing the time I spend doing those things.

If I did these things, I still might achieve my goal of blogging for 30 consecutive days, but it’s less likely to become a habit.

Think about all that you do and why you do them. It can be really powerful to find that true “why.”

This is day 6 of my experiment to blog for 30 consecutive days.

Analysis Paralysis

This is day 5 of my experiment to blog for 30 consecutive days.

When we’re presented with too much data or too many options, many times we get paralyzed by the analysis that we can do with all of this information. It then takes way too long to come to a decision.

For instance, a little while ago I bought a new set of earphones. A search for “earphones” on Amazon gave me something like 7 or 8 categories to choose from, and within each category there were thousands of options.

I then looked through the ratings, scanned the prices, and assessed how the products looked. If I saw something I liked, I would click on the product and dig into the reviews and specifications.

I would then copy and paste the info of a few products into a Google spreadsheet and add some notes so I can run my own head-to-head comparison.

I wound up buying a $20 set of JVC earbuds. And I spent almost a week analyzing this purchase.

The earbuds are great, but making a $20 decision shouldn’t take a week of my time.

Yesterday, my colleagues and I were selecting standing desks for our new office. We were on EvoDesks’s website and were going through all of the options that they offered. Should we get the straight or beveled edge? Add casters? Will a keyboard tray be more comfortable? What color desktop and legs should we get? Monitor arms would be cool, right?

It’s a desk, for Christ’s sake.

I know this happens to businesses all the time. They pore through giga- or terabytes of data on their customers and their purchase habits to attempt to deliver promotions to the right people at the right price at the right time. They may spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on consultants to perform this analysis and may take months to come to a decision.

Sometimes this works. Other times this analysis paralysis slows down the company and many times they get it totally wrong.

I’m not saying that being thorough when making decisions is a bad thing. Thinking through your decisions is certainly important.

But understanding the cost-benefit of spending lots of time on making your decision may be just as, if not more, important.

Think about the impact that your decision will have and spend the commensurate amount of time on making it. Do your analysis, but don’t let it paralyze you. Then make a decision with confidence.

The Power of Aggregation

This is day 4 of my experiment to blog for 30 consecutive days

Aggregation is one of my favorite concepts. It saves me a ton of time and hassle in both my personal and work lives.

Why shop at multiple online stores when you can go to Amazon, who aggregates both products and other online merchants, and buy everything you want on one site?

Why search scores of websites for flights when you can go to Kayak and compare them all at once?

Why visit multiple social media sites when you can see all of your Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn streams on a single interface on Hootsuite?

But aggregation isn’t always the best solution. Maybe the user interface isn’t quite right for everything that is being aggregated, or some features and functionality may have to be left out to facilitate the aggregation. Or in some cases aggregation isn’t even wanted.

For instance, Comcast and other cable networks aggregate hundreds of networks, many of which you won’t ever watch (what the hell is Here TV?) under one cable plan. And they bundle cable, internet access, and a phone landline and make you pay hundreds of dollars for it.

Cable is now being unbundled by over-the-top networks like Sling TV and HBO Go.

Another example is Craigslist. You can do anything on that site – find a roommate, sell that desk that’s collecting dust in the corner, buy a car, find a girlfriend or boyfriend. But it’s ugly as sin and the user interface you’ll have finding a job on Craigslist looks exactly like the one you’ll have finding a date.

Craigslist has been disrupted by unbundling by the likes of Match.com (dating), AirBNB (finding a place to crash), any job board (finding jobs), UrbanSitter (finding a babysitter) and many other sites.

Even with the aforementioned Hootsuite, one of my favorite tools, you can’t do some of the things you can on Facebook or Twitter. Performing Twitter hashtag and people searches really sucks on Hootsuite, so I find myself visiting Twitter.com to search.

Just like everything else, there are two sides to every coin. Aggregation can be a powerful thing, but it’s not always the right answer.

So if you’re using multiple products to find a solution, and it’s a big pain in the ass, you might have an opportunity on your hands to improve it. On the other hand, if you’re using an aggregation product and it just doesn’t feel quite right, you might also have an opportunity.

Making decisions with confidence

This is day 3 of my experiment to blog for 30 consecutive days

Making decisions can be really tough.

Sometimes you lack experience in the subject matter of the decision you’re about to make. Other times, the experiences you’ve had in the past led to different outcomes, so you’re not sure which direction to take.

Sometimes you have no data upon which to base your decision. Other times, you have too much data.

Sometimes no one can empathize with your situation. Other times, everyone has an opinion.

The act of making the decision can be really hard, but what may be more difficult is anticipating and dealing with the consequences of your decision.

You might fear what people think of and how they’ll react to your decision.

You might be scared of the results of your choices.

These thoughts and fears might make you think twice about your choices.

But the doubters, naysayers, and people who disagree aren’t going away, and they’re not going to change anytime soon.

And the potential consequences aren’t going to change just because you’re second guessing yourself.

So you need to make decisions with as much confidence and conviction as possible, and be prepared to deal with the consequences.

You should be able to accept that you might make a wrong decision and that failure is an option. And you need to be able to deal with it, learn from it, and apply these learnings to future decisions.

This applies regardless of whether your decision has to do with work or your personal life.

Let’s take a personal life example. My wife Vicky and I are first-time parents and when our baby Maya was a couple of months old, we had no idea what to do to get her to fall asleep.

We had no prior experience in this situation. We read scores of forums, blog posts, and books about how to get your baby to sleep and they all proposed different solutions. We spoke with other parents and they all had their own opinion.

We just had to make a decision, implement a solution (let her cry herself to sleep!) and prepare for the consequences.

Maya might cry herself to sleep in 10 minutes. Or she might cry all night.

We were prepared to deal with the consequences, and if they were negative, we would accept it and move forward. There was no point of overthinking the decision.

The same goes for work decisions.

Maybe you’re deciding on what approach to take and what to charge a potential customer for your services. You assess similar projects in the past, the size of the company, budget he or she may have, the data you’ve gathered from past phone calls and emails, and the other vendors this prospect is looking at.

You might win the project, which would be awesome. You would get praise and some bucks in your pocket.

Or you might lose the project to a competitor, which would suck. Your boss and colleagues will be disappointed, you might not make your quota, and your pocket will be empty.

At some point, you just need to pull the trigger and be prepared to deal with the consequences. You can’t control what happens after you send off the proposal. If you put in the work and thoroughly thought through the problem, you should be confident in your proposal and the decision you made. The rest is out of your hands.

Most importantly, you need to be able to learn from all of your decisions, regardless of whether you were right or wrong.

It’s a cumulative thing, too. The more confidence you have in your decisions, the less you’ll second-guess yourself, and you’ll have more confidence in making your future decisions.

Are you doing work that matters?

This is day 2 of my experiment to blog for 30 consecutive days.

I ask myself this question often.

Some days I believe that I’m doing work that matters. Work that is helping companies grow bigger and get better. Work that is helping entrepreneurs get smarter. Work that means something to me.

Other days, I waver. I have doubts about the direction my career is headed. I wonder if I’m spending my time in the best way.

The first issue is defining exactly what work matters.

I think the first criteria of this definition is doing work that matters for others.

In some cases, it’s pretty clear.

For instance, my wife is a Safety Evaluator for the Food and Drug Administration. She monitors drugs and pores through data of reported side effects to help decide if any action, such as updating drug labeling or issuing a public warning, is necessary.

She is protecting the health of those who take prescription medication. It’s evident that this is work that matters to others.

Those who work for non-profits that provide clean water to people in Africa, or those who are searching for a cure for cancer, are clearly doing work that matters for others.

Other times, it’s debatable.

A cigarette manufacturer, a stock trader, and a management consulting (trust me, I was one in a past career) are some of many jobs that are questionable.

The next criteria is doing work that matters for yourself. This is at times intertwined with doing work that matters for others, but not always.

If you are doing work that matters for others, it’s easier to believe that you’re doing work that matters for yourself. You feel good about your work, you feel that it has an impact. You have a clear mission, and that’s a powerful thing.

If you doubt whether you’re doing work that matters for others, it may be more difficult to believe that you are doing work that matters for yourself. Your mission may be a bit more clouded, your direction a little unknown.

Or, you might not care and completely believe that you are doing work that matters to you, which can be powerful as well.

For instance, let’s say you’re the guy who developed Flappy Bird. You developed this game that was super-hot for a few months. You provided entertainment for the masses for a short time. Is that work that matters for others? It might be, it might not be.

Or, maybe you just don’t care, and that it matters to you. You may not be curing cancer, but you built something that people enjoyed. And you made a financial killing to the tune of $50,000 per day, and that might be enough to matter to you.

I don’t know the guy who built that game, so I’m not judging at all. I’m just saying that the definition of work that matters, to you or to others, is in the eye of the beholder.

And I’m not complaining at all about my work situation. I am fortunate to work with great people and am happy with my current job and side projects.

But that doesn’t mean doubt doesn’t creep in every now and then about where my career is headed and whether I’m doing the right thing. I think a little bit of fear and apprehension is healthy, if it doesn’t get to the point of being unhealthy. It keeps you on your toes and helps you to constantly improve.

I’ve been in jobs before where I truly didn’t believe that I was doing work that mattered.

So I think that everyone should ask themselves if they are doing work that matters. If not, and if it bothers you, you should think about making a change.

New experiment – 30 consecutive days of blogging

I’m going to blog for 30 straight days. Today, February 15, is day 1, and this is the first of 30 posts.

I’ve had this blog for a few years now but I’ve never been able to consistently create content.

There are plenty of reasons why, and here are some of them:

  • I’ve been busy with other projects.
  • I had a baby 9 months ago, and taking care of Maya requires a lot of time and energy.
  • There are times when I felt no one is reading what I write (which may be true), so I get discouraged.
  • (Insert any other reason here)

Actually, all of those are excuses, not reasons.

The real reason is that I’ve never dedicated myself enough to make blogging a habit.

With this experiment, I’m going to see if it can become a habit.

I recently listened to an episode of The Tim Ferriss Show where Seth Godin was the guest. Seth said that blogging was one of the best business decisions he has ever made, and that prompted me to start this experiment. You should definitely listen to that episode. It’s pretty amazing and really helpful.

What am I going to blog about for the next 30 days?

Anything.

The posts are going to be about whatever is on my mind.

They may be about startups and my entrepreneurial journey.

Or my family and friends.

Or something random and interesting (to me) that I see that day.

These articles aren’t going to be fully though-out and researched pieces. Rather, this blog will be a journal or diary of sorts.

The posts probably won’t be the most grammatically correct, either. They probably won’t have any pretty pictures.

I don’t want perfection to get in the way of me just writing and publishing.

After 30 days, we’ll see where I stand and how I feel about blogging.

At best, I’ll continue to blog everyday.

At worst, I’ll develop a deep hatred for blogging and writing. I don’t expect that to happen, but it would suck if it did, because my livelihood depends on writing.

I hope you’ll come along for the ride with me. It should be fun. I hope.

Anyway, here goes! I’m hitting publish right now!