Inside My Brain

Thoughts about startups, tech, marketing, and life

CATEGORY: Business

Reflecting on 2015, big changes coming in 2016

New-Year_Resolutions_list

Another year flies by! It’s amazing how fast 2015 went and how quickly 2016 will be here.

Here are my thoughts on how I did with the resolutions I made in 2015.

And I’m not making resolutions for 2016!

Read on…

Recapping 2015

Here were my resolutions for 2015 and how I did:

1) Publicly launch ribl and gain over 100,000 users: ribl launched, but we didn’t get close to 100K users

We launched ribl publicly at SXSW in March, but we certainly did not gain over 100,000 users.

While we worked hard to launch our app, we couldn’t keep up with the fast pace necessary to maintain and grow a consumer mobile application.

We’re bootstrapping ribl, which means that we’re funding the company with our own money. Bootstrapping a startup is hard; it’s difficult to find a balance between working for paying clients and building a product that won’t bring in any revenue for the foreseeable future.

Because we had to spend a lot of time on consulting engagements, we didn’t quite get as far as we expected with ribl. Sucks.

Rating: 5 out of 10

2) Measure more: not bad

I made a resolution to be more analytical and more frequently look at the metrics of my clients’ websites, my blog, the ribl app, and any other property that I managed.

I did spend more time on analytics and learned some new measurement tools, but probably didn’t do as much as I could.

Rating: 6 out of 10

3) Avoid alcohol for two weeks every quarter: total fail

Jeez, I totally forgot about this one. Again.

Absolute fail.

Rating: 1 out of 10

4) Be a great dad: pretty good!

Baby Maya was born on May 14, 2015 and she is incredible!

It’s tough for me to truly judge how great of a dad I’ve been, but I think I’ve done a solid job so far.

Vicky and I have been working well together to balance our schedules to take care of Maya. We also have the help of Vicky’s mother and my Mom, which has been a godsend.

Maya is happy and healthy, and that’s all that really matters.

Rating: 8 out of 10

One more thing for 2015 – launch of my podcast

Another big thing that happened in 2015 is that I launched a podcast, the Go and Grow Podcast.

At the beginning of the year, I hadn’t ever listened to a podcast. But by October, I launched my own!

It’s been a great ride so far.

My podcast has reached #1 on a few iTunes New and Noteworthy categories.

More importantly, I just love speaking with entrepreneurs about how they’ve launched and grown their companies. I’ve learned so much and have been inspired by their stories.

Looking forward to 2016

To tell you the truth, I don’t feel like making any resolutions for 2016, and maybe ever again.

I just wind up forgetting about the resolutions I’ve made and then get depressed when I write this blog post at the end of each year.

Yeah, I know, it seems like a cop out. The better solution may be to actually remember the resolutions I’ve made and stick to them, right?

Instead, I’m just going to work hard, make progress every day, and balance my career and life as a whole.

I do want to highlight some major changes that are coming in 2016.

Career changes

As I stated in my recap of resolution #1, we didn’t even come close to progressing with ribl as we hoped. This was because we lacked the time and resources to focus on building and growing the app.

The ideal situation would be for me and my co-founders to dedicate 100% of our time on building ribl or whatever product we choose to develop. But life doesn’t work that way, as we all have families for which to provide, so we need income.

So I’ve decided to join my co-founders in growing their software development firm, Thorn Technologies, where I’ll be Chief Marketing Officer!

The structure that we’ve had the past couple of years wasn’t quite working.

I consulted for Thorn Technologies for a few hours per week to help market the firm and sell software development projects. And whenever we had some free time, we would work on ribl.

Thorn Tech would grow a little, ribl would grow a little, but we would still be strapped for resources and not get as far as we’d like on either.

Now I’ll be working full-time to grow Thorn Tech faster.

The hope is that by dedicating more time to growing Thorn Tech, we’ll have a larger portfolio of projects and more robust pipeline of potential clients. This in turn will put us in a better financial situation, allow us to hire more resources to both cover our client projects and help us build a product, whether that’s ribl as it exists, ribl in another form, or something in a completely different direction.

Will this new structure work? We think it will, but who knows.

It’s clear that what we had didn’t work, so we need to try something else. It wouldn’t make sense to keep going as-is and just hope that things will get better.

So we’re going to give this experiment a shot and see how much progress we can make on the product front.

I’ll still continue to grow my podcast on my free time, and maybe even launch a show for Thorn Tech!

Life changes

With the birth of Maya, our condo is getting pretty cramped. And with Maya growing so quickly, it will only continue to get more crowded.

So Vicky and I have been looking for a larger home that will accommodate our growing family.

We’re not sure where we’ll wind up, as we have to balance our love for the city, the quality of schools, availability of houses within our budget, and many more factors.

It’ll be a lot of work to find and transition to a new place. We’re not even sure if the move will happen in 2016 but it’s certainly a possibility.

Conclusion

2015 was a fun but up-and-down year.

The birth of Maya was certainly the highlight of 2015. Though it’s a tough job raising a child – many sleepless nights and lots of uncertainty – it has been one of the most rewarding experiences ever.

And while I’ve had early success with my podcast, I didn’t come close to achieving as much as I would have liked with the startup, which is my #1 career priority.

2016 is going to be full of change and excitement.

I can’t wait to see how much Maya develops, and look forward to the changes her growth brings to our lives.

I’m pumped about my new role at Thorn Tech, as I do believe it will help us progress in building a product.

And I’m excited to continue working on my podcast and growing my audience.

See you later, 2015, it was nice knowing you. Hello 2016, looking forward to finding out more about you!

What changes are coming your way and what will you focus on in 2016? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

What advice should you listen to, and what should you ignore?

Bad Advice

Advice is cheap.

Advice gets thrown around all the time, whether it’s asked for or not.

So how do you know what advice to listen to, and what to ignore?

Asking for advice

I ask for advice from my family, friends, and colleagues often.

Whether it’s about a tough life decision I need to make, or what product feature we should add next, or how to get my kid to sleep through the night, I naturally seek the opinions of others who may have been through these situations.

Sometimes, advice is given to me unsolicited, too.

Many times I have no idea what advice is good and what is not.

Everyone wants to help, and I’m appreciative of having a strong support network. So if I ask you for advice, please know that I absolutely value your opinion and will always take it into consideration.

But I often have trouble deciphering good advice from bad and often am just as if not more confused about what I should do than if I hadn’t asked for advice in the first place.

Providing advice

I’m happy to provide advice to whomever asks me.

I’m an advisor for a startup called FanCheer Interactive and I speak with the CEO approximately once a month about how his business is doing. Sometimes he simply provides updates. Other times he asks for advice, and I provide it to him. That’s my role.

I also provide advice to some of my fellow startup founders about marketing, product, strategy, or whatever topic, whenever they ask. I’m happy to help at any time.

And some of my friends and family speak with me about their careers (as if I have any idea what I’m doing with mine) and whether they should pursue certain opportunities.

All of these people typically tell me my advice is helpful. But most of the time I have no idea what they are really thinking, if they used the information I provided, and what the outcome was.

How are you supposed to know what’s good or bad advice?

Hindsight is always 20/20, so after you’ve made your decision, you can certainly determine whether the advice provided to you was good or bad.

But as you’re going through the decision process, how can you identify what advice is signal and what is noise?

I don’t know the answer to this question (obviously).

I think it just comes down to gut feel, and understanding if the person providing the advice has truly been through your specific situation before and can thus put himself or herself in your shoes.

Even then, there may be biases, as there always will be.

How do you decipher good advice from bad? I’d love to hear in the comments how you separate the signal from the noise.

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article, sign up for my email list below, then connect with me on TwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn for future updates.

Image courtesy of Alexander on Flickr

Guest Post for The Good Men Project – I’m a Husband, Father, and Entrepreneur, Thanks to My Wife

Good men project image

Check out my guest post on The Good Men Project titled “I’m a Husband, Father, and Entrepreneur, Thanks to My Wife.

I’ve been a husband for over three years, and a father to my beautiful baby girl Maya for just over six months. Of course, I couldn’t be a husband and father without Vicky.

I’ve also been an entrepreneur since July 2012. I owe that to Vicky as well.

Being a husband and a father were inevitable. Being an entrepreneur didn’t have to happen. But it did, and I couldn’t be an entrepreneur without the financial and emotional support from my wife.

Being a husband, father, and entrepreneur all at once takes a lot of sacrifice and compromise, and of course, not only on my part. Vicky arguably has sacrificed more than I have, and I owe everything to her.

Read our full story on The Good Men Project.

Photo courtesy of Junichi Ishito on Flickr

Complete one simple task to avoid procrastinating

procrastinating

I’ve been thinking about writing this blog post for a few days now, but for some reason, I kept procrastinating.

I don’t know why, but I would do anything else to avoid writing this article.

Finally, I started this post a few days ago by simply writing “Just get started” in the title field and saving the draft.

That took all of 10 seconds, and as you can see, “Just get started” didn’t turn out to be the final title of this article. But crafting the initial title and saving the draft in WordPress kickstarted the writing process and helped me get going.

Take that first step and the rest will follow

If you’ve been procrastinating on a new project or endeavor, taking that first step, no matter how unimportant or minuscule, can be the spark you need to get going.

We’ve all been guilty of procrastinating, and for plenty of reasons. Maybe procrastination happens because you’re scared no one will read that blog post or appreciate your work. Maybe you’re just tired or lazy. Or maybe that project is so daunting that you don’t know where to start.

There was a time when I had to build a marketing model and just had no clue where I should begin, so I put it off for weeks. Finally, I simply created and titled a Google Doc and typed in some column headers.

I had no idea if those were the right headers to use, and I had no idea what kind of data would fall under those headers. But by completing the simple task of creating the document and labeling columns, I was able to get into the mindset of doing and thinking about how to build the model. I wound up finishing the first draft of that marketing model within a couple of hours.

Regardless of the size or difficulty of the project, there shouldn’t be a reason why you can’t execute a simple task that takes 10 seconds. A project can be broken down into much smaller tasks, and something elementary like “create and title spreadsheet” can be one of them.

Once you get over the hurdle of starting, you’ll be amazed at what can happen after that.

Avoid procrastinating in work and life

This “just get started” mentality can apply to projects in both work and life.

I’ve been putting off installing a wall shelf for months. That Pottery Barn box chilled in my living room but was out of the way just enough for me to ignore it for months on end. So one Saturday I took the shelf out of the box and laid it out in the middle of the room.

Even though I couldn’t install it that day, that shelf that I had to step over was a constant reminder of an unfinished task that I needed to complete. Now this beautiful thing hangs on my living room wall and is adorned by life’s wonderful memories:

living room shelf

Another situation where this is applicable is exercise. There are times when I know I need to go to the gym but am lazy. So I’ll change into athletic clothes just so I get the feeling that I’m on my way to the gym. Next thing I know, I’m actually there, pumping iron.

Just do one simple task, and the rest will follow.

Conclusion

Procrastination is a powerful force that can lead to inactivity and a lack of productivity. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Completing a very simple task can get you over the hurdle of getting started.

And sometimes that’s all you need to get going.

Your turn

Are there any projects or tasks that you’ve been putting off? What are some simple steps you can take to get started? I’d love to hear more in the comments.

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article, sign up for my email list below, then connect with me on TwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn for future updates.

Image courtesy of Ludie Cochrane on Flickr.

3 examples of startups who innovate on business model, not just product

The startup world is hot right now and there are so many companies vying to be the next big thing. If you read TechCrunch, The Verge, or any other startup or technology publication, you’ll be inundated with content about hundreds of companies with similar-sounding solutions.

If you’re a potential customer of some of these options, you might wonder – how are these companies different from each another?

Another enterprise communication software company just launched as I write this – how will it be different from Slack, Yammer, HipChat, or the 100 other tools out there?

Sweet, another project management app? I already use two of them, so might as well sign me up for a third, right?

Someone else just built a platform where you can get meals delivered to your home – should I use that one, or Munchery, Sprig, Maple, or the 30 other options that I have?

Most of the differentiation among these companies, if any, comes from the product, which makes a lot of sense. You can see or feel the differences in product and user experience, so they have the most immediate impact on the potential customer.

But what’s more interesting to me are companies that innovate and differentiate on business model. They deliver a great product (which is a necessity), but the way they significantly separate themselves from their competition is by delivering a unique solution based on how they charge their customer, and not just the product they deliver.

Here are three examples.

Zenefits – free software, commissions on insurance sales

Zenefits homepage

Zenefits is free software that allows small and medium businesses to manage all of their human resource tasks, such as benefits, payroll, time off, and more, all in one platform. Competitors include BambooHR, Vista HCM, TribeHR, Zoho People, and many others.

It’s been labeled as one of the fastest-growing software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies ever.

I’m not expert in HR management solutions, nor have I used any of these software packages. While Zenefits may differentiate itself a bit by having a better product, that’s not the point. The way they have really innovated is with their business model.

While other solutions charge their customers based on number of employees in the company or users of the software, Zenefits gives its software away for free.

Not a free trial. Not freemium. FREE 4EVA. This is basically unheard of in the enterprise software world.

Zenefits makes money by becoming the insurance broker for all of their customers and earns commissions for any health, dental, vision, and other insurance that is sold and managed through the platform.

Genius.

Venture capitalist Tom Tunguz calls this a “software-enabled marketplace” and this model, when executed correctly, can lead to dominating market positions, which Zenefits is well on its way to achieving.

Thumbtack – charge per contact, not per transaction

Thumbtack homepage

Thumbtack is a website where you can find a professional local service provider to help you complete any project such as remodeling your home, tutoring your child, or refreshing your resume.

Sound familiar? It should, as there are tons of similar sites – Craigslist, Angie’s List, HomeAdvisor, Red Beacon, and Zaarly, just to name a few.

While many of these companies charge service providers a fee per transaction, Thumbtack differentiates by charging these contractors each time they contact a potential customer.

The company initially charged transaction fees and also tried a subscription-based model, but pivoted toward the charge-per-contact model because they found that this better scaled to the activity of the marketplace and acted as a pre-screener for each potential customer.

This is a perfect example of the Build-Measure-Learn principle of the Lean Startup where companies can use a consistent experimentation process to achieve success. In most cases, companies use the Build-Measure-Learn process to make changes to its product, but Thumbtack used it to alter its business model.

With a $100 million fundraise a year ago, I’d say Thumbtack made some smart decisions.

Robin Hood – no trading fees

Robin Hood homepage

Robin Hood is a mobile app where you can trade stocks for free with no account minimums, while other online brokers such as eTrade, Charles Schwab, and TD Ameritrade charge around $10 per transaction with account minimums of $500 or more.

Robin Hood recognized that the millennial segment is a group that is largely untapped by financial services firms, and the company understood that in order to get this segment active in investing, barriers like trading fees, account minimums, and complicated tools and interfaces needed to be abolished.

With little to no overhead (as opposed to many other online brokers, who have to maintain brick-and-mortar locations and pay financial advisors and administrative staff), Robin Hood is able to let its users trade stocks for free.

The company makes money by accruing interest from users’ uninvested cash balances, and is testing the collection of interest from those who upgrade to a margin account.

This is a case of a company recognizing a hole in the financial services market, understanding its target customers, and finding a way to cater to them.

Conclusion

Zenefits, Thumbtack, and Robin Hood are three examples of startups who figured out a way to differentiate themselves from the competition using their business models, and not just their products.

These companies were really smart in understanding their customer really well and figuring out the best way to monetize their users.

While innovating on product is still extremely important, I really appreciate when companies can find inventive business models that works well for both the end user and the organization.

Your turn

What do you think of the above companies who are innovating on business models? Do you have any other examples who are doing the same? I’d love to hear more in the comments.

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article, sign up for my email list below, then connect with me on TwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn for future updates.

Do you regret your past career decisions? Here’s why you shouldn’t.

Career regret

Studies have shown that workers can have up to seven careers in their lifetime. If you’re one of these people, this means that you may have had to take a few steps back and completely start over with little experience in your new job or industry.

Thus, when thinking about your career trajectory, it’s easy to say “I wish I had done that sooner,” or “Man, if I knew then what I know now, I’d totally be killing it today,” or whatever else people say about the career and life decisions that they regret.

Many people who have made career changes wish that they realized sooner what they wanted to do with their lives. They think that they’re really late to the game and regret not doing things differently in the past.

My career has been a winding, swerving roller coaster, and I think this way sometimes. But it’s bullshit. And when I do think this way, I always call myself out, because things change all the time, and you never know how past experiences can help your current or future prospects.

Here’s what I mean.

My convoluted career path

I received my Bachelor’s Degree in Materials Science and Engineering in 2000 but had no desire to work in that field after graduation. After all, life wasn’t to be spent in a lab or steel mill.

Thus, I pursued my Master’s Degree in Industrial Engineering (IE) to hopefully start my career in the consulting industry. After obtaining that diploma in 2001 and getting a consulting gig, I wished I was interested in IE sooner. I felt that my four years of undergrad could have been better spent pursuing an IE major, and I wouldn’t have had to attend grad school.

Oh, regret.

The consulting career then ran its course.

When I started my career in sports business a few years later, I then wished that I had jumped into that industry sooner.

I was living the dream at my marketing job at the Washington Capitals. At that time, I couldn’t even imagine working in another industry.

Even when basking in the glow of my dream sports marketing job, I thought about how far up the corporate ladder I would have been had I started working in sports business after undergrad, instead of seven years and two graduate degrees (and lots of debt) later.

Oh, regret.

Until, of course, that career ran its course and I became an entrepreneur.

Do I wish that I had pursued entrepreneurship earlier in my career? Not at all.

You are the sum of your experiences

Your experiences make you the person you are now, and your current career is the aggregate result of your past careers. Even if your past careers seem completely disconnected from what you’re doing now, don’t ever regret the path you took nor take your past experience for granted.

I never came close to using materials science and engineering concepts in any of my careers, but that degree laid the foundation for the analytical thinking I use everyday.

I actually did use my IE degree in my consulting career, which is a plus. And even though I don’t directly apply IE to my current job, the concepts of efficient work, project and time management, and process analytics certainly influence each task that I execute on a daily basis.

And looking back, the MBA that I attained isn’t a necessary credential for an entrepreneur; rather, many say the degree is a detriment. But do I regret getting that degree? No way.

Although I attended NYU Stern to pursue a career in sports business, I learned so much about marketing, branding, and management, skills that I use every day. And much of my professional network stems from my time at NYU, which has helped and will continue to benefit my career in the future.

Conclusion

Sure, everyone wishes they had pursued certain career paths earlier, but hindsight is always 20/20. Don’t even waste time looking back and regretting your choices.

Just know that your past experiences make you who you are now, and that’s a good thing.

Your turn

Have you made career decisions that you regret? How do you think those decisions have impacted your career trajectory? I’d love to hear more in the comments.

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article, sign up for my email list below, and connect with me on TwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn for future updates.

Trello vs. Asana – which is better project management software?

For the last couple of years, I’ve used Asana as my project management software of choice. I’m not really sure why I originally chose to use Asana other than reading some articles about it and realizing how beautifully designed the tool was when I first saw it.

Lately I’ve had so many people tell me how much they love Trello. So I’ve been testing it over the last few months to see if it’s as good as people say, and whether it’s a better fit for me than Asana.

Here’s what I learned.

Overview of Trello and Asana

Trello

Trello is a simple but powerful web and mobile application based on the kanban board that Toyota popularized in the 1980s and used for their innovative supply chain management process.

The user interface is a board (which typically equates to a project), filled with lists (categories) of cards (tasks or ideas). The default board has lists that are named “To Do,” “Doing,” “Done,” but you can organize and rename each board and list as you please.

The card is the atomic unit of Trello, and here’s where you can create and assign a task or idea, build checklists, add notes, upload attachments, type comments, and more.

Here’s a quick snapshot of what Trello looks like:

Trello welcome board

Asana

Asana is project management software with a bit more structure to it.

The first entity in Asana is the workspace, which is the rough equivalent of a Trello board. When you get into a workspace, Asana has a three-column interface:

  • The left column lists projects and members of the workspace
  • The middle column lists task info
  • The right column shows task details, where you can add attachments, create subtasks, add comments, and more

Here’s what Asana looks like:

Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 6.38.42 AM

Trello’s strengths

Super flexibility

You can do anything with Trello; it’s not just limited to to-do lists and project management.

The standard thing to do with Trello is to create boards where you can log and organize your tasks by project. I’ve created task boards for projects that I’m working on, such as ribl, Thorn Technologies (one of my consulting clients), Startup Weekend DC planning, and personal projects.

But because Trello is so flexible, you can create a board for almost anything. I’ve created a Content Planning and Distribution board, where I log all the blog post ideas that come to mind as well as all of the channels where I can distribute my content.

I also use Trello as a lightweight customer relationship management (CRM) tool for the sales and business development that I do for my clients and my consulting practice. I’ll create cards for each prospect and within each card I’ll log call notes and create checklists for follow-up tasks.

As you can see, Trello is amazingly flexible and can be used to keep track of anything you can think of.

More visual

While Asana is beautifully designed, Trello is more of a visual tool. You can attach images and add color-coded labels to categorize cards. The app displays plenty of icons that represent checklists, votes, due dates, and more. You can even change the background image of your board. Check out the side-by-side comparison below, with Trello on the left and Asana on the right.

trello kitchen redesignScreen Shot 2015-06-09 at 6.38.42 AM

Moving cards around is really rewarding

I have a board that I call “Today’s To-Dos” that lists all the tasks that I need to execute today. Whenever I complete a task, I’ll move it from that project’s list to the “Done” list. And there’s something super rewarding about moving those cards, as opposed to checking off a box and having that task disappear, like in Asana.

And at the end of the day, when I see the board below, I can be pretty proud of all that I’ve accomplished.

Trello Done

Today was a good day (cue Ice Cube)

Asana’s strengths

Structure

While Trello’s flexibility is extremely powerful, it may be too flexible for people who are looking for a tool to provide structure in their lives. In this case, Asana trumps Trello.

Asana provides many out-of-the-box features that will help you better organize your tasks and projects. The app lets you categorize your tasks by “Today,” “Upcoming,” and “Later,” so you know what you need to work on and when. You can assign tasks to projects and easily navigate between views for projects and your specific tasks.

A big part of the structure that Asana provides better than Trello is recurring tasks. If you have tasks that you have to execute on a repetitive basis (e.g. every month I need to invoice my clients), Asana allows you to easily set these recurring tasks with a couple of clicks.

Asana recurring tasks

You need workarounds to do this in Trello. You can either manually copy cards over and over again, or just change the due date of that original card. You can also create weekly or monthly lists and copy those at the beginning of each week or month. Or you can use a Zapier integration to facilitate this. It’s just not that easy.

Better email reminders

Many people hate receiving email, and understandably so. But my workflow depends heavily on email, and Asana’s email reminders are amazing.

When you set a due date for a task in Asana, the system will send you email reminders:

  1. One week before the task is due.
  2. One day before the task is due.
  3. The day when the task is due.
  4. Every day the task is overdue until one week has passed.

Yes, that’s a lot of reminders (up to 10 emails for one task!) but it sure as hell will get you to either complete the task or change its due date.

On the other hand, Trello will send one email reminder the day before the task is due, and that’s it. For those who want to avoid email, this is great. But for those like me who depend on email as kind of a to-do list in and of itself, one email reminder isn’t enough.

Dashboards

Because of the more structured philosophy of Asana, the tool is able to better track project progress with dashboards. Asana provides visuals of how many tasks have been completed and remain, and allows the project owner to provide descriptions and status updates about the project. This is a nice feature to get a quick snapshot on how the project is moving along.

Other factors to consider

Team collaboration

While I’ve primarily used Trello and Asana for personal task management, I have also used both apps to manage projects with other team members.

I didn’t see much of a difference between the two apps in this regard, but that’s probably due to the fact that I haven’t used them all that often for team collaboration.

There may be many differentiating features with respect to team collaboration but I don’t have enough experience to determine them.

Mobile apps

Asana and Trello have mobile apps that accompany their desktop counterparts.

Both apps are pretty easy to use and stay true to their design principles. I didn’t see a major difference in quality of the mobile apps outside of the aforementioned differences in the desktop version.

So this isn’t a differentiating factor for me, but it may be for you.

Integrations

I use upwards of 10 apps while working everyday and many of them can talk to and exchange data with one another. Both Trello and Asana have integrations with many other apps that I use, but I’m not a big user of these integrations yet.

Maybe I’ll find out if there are major differences down the road, but right now, this isn’t a big factor for me.

Conclusion

Trello and Asana are both great project management tools to keep you organized and productive. Selecting which app works best for you really comes down to personal preference.

For now, I’m going to stick with Trello. I think the visual user interface and flexibility of Trello trumps the structure and strong email reminders of Asana.

Have you used both Trello and Asana for project management? What are your thoughts about their differences, strengths, and weaknesses? I’d love to hear your opinions in the comments.

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article, sign up for my email list below, and connect with me on TwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn for future updates.

3 ways how raising a kid is like running a startup

 

ribl and mayaVicky and I welcomed our beautiful daughter to the world on May 14, 2015. At that time I recognized that I’m now the co-founder of two startups – ribl and baby Maya!

The more often I perform my fatherly duties, the more I realize that raising a child is very similar to running a startup. Here are the three major ways they’re alike.

There’s no playbook for this stuff

There is no shortage of books and internet articles about other founders’ experiences with startups and what they’ve learned. Entrepreneurs publish posts on their own blogs or write articles on sites like Medium and Quora that communicate what they’ve learned running their companies and things that worked and didn’t.

Similarly, there are plenty of websites like Parenting.com and BabyCenter.com where experts provide insight on how to raise your children and parents ask questions and tell their stories about their experiences rearing their kids.

In both worlds, there are some standard guidelines that you can follow but in the end, every situation is different. You need to experiment and try different things to determine the best decision for your particular circumstance. The issues that you’ll face running your startup are going to be different than the next entrepreneur’s, just like your child is going to be different than that of the family down the street. You can read all of the advice but just make sure you’re applying the correct information to your particular situation to make the best decision possible.

Both are absolute roller coasters

I’ve been an entrepreneur for about three years and it’s been a roller coaster of emotion, with a bunch of highs and just as many lows. I’ve only been a dad for a week and I’m already finding out about the peaks and valleys of parenthood.

I wrote on the ribl blog that startups are a slog, and running a company is full of little things that you have to do every day to keep moving forward. There are going to be days when you’re 100% sure that you’re doing the right thing and will absolutely succeed. And then there will be days where it seems like you’re climbing a never-ending mountain. The good days are great, but the bad days can be absolutely miserable.

Raising a child is also full of little things to do each day, and many can give you joy or ruin your mood. It’s a great feeling putting Maya to sleep; Vicky and I claim victory every time she’s napping in her crib. But her wailing during the wee hours of the morning is not the way we prefer to wake up, and we’re absolutely exhausted because of it. I’m sure as the days, weeks, and years go on, there will be plenty of good and bad to come.

The only way to deal with the roller coasters of emotion is to celebrate the highs, as small as some of them may be, and not get too down when the lows come around.

The right co-founders are really, really important

Running a company and raising a kid are both extremely difficult to do alone. And doing these with the wrong partner may be just as bad.

Paul Graham, the founder of top-tier startup accelerator Y Combinator, lists being a single co-founder as the #1 mistake that kills startups. He also says that you have to be really careful in selecting and working with the right co-founder. Startup co-founders need to be equally committed to the company and must work well together; the wrong partners can lead to your company’s demise. I’ve experienced this personally.

The same can be said for raising a kid. Rearing a child can be a really intense experience. It’s essentially another full time job and adds a completely foreign dimension to your life. You and your spouse or partner need to be on the same page and work really well together in order to raise a healthy and well-rounded child and not lose your minds doing it.

I’m lucky to have amazing co-founders in both of my startups.

Conclusion

I’m quickly learning how similar being an entrepreneur and a father are. Both entail processing a lot of advice and applying it to my specific situation, dealing with ups and downs everyday, and working together with my partners to achieve the best outcome.

Both of my startups are going to be long journeys on winding roads, but I’m going to enjoy the rides.

I hope you enjoyed this blog post! If so, please share it and connect with me on TwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn for future updates.

How to avoid burning out when running your startup (and promoting it at SXSW)

burnout

This time last week I was in Austin, TX for SXSW Interactive to promote my startup, ribl. And this time last week, I was as mentally and physically drained and depressed as I have ever been in my life.

Those who know me know that I’m a pretty high-energy and positive person, and “depressed” is hardly ever in my vocabulary. But SXSW, and the startup game, took its toll on me for a little while. Here’s what I learned from the situation, how it applies to startups overall, and how you can avoid the temporary burnout that I experienced.

Multi-day conferences, and startups, are marathons, not sprints

If you read my recap of SXSW on the ribl website, you might see that I had a pretty stressful start to the conference.

The week prior to the event, I was really busy preparing for my demos and garnering press for our launch. On Friday, it took longer than we expected to publish the app on Google Play, which was really nerve-wracking. On Saturday, my demo at Austin TechBreakfast did not go well, and I spent all day and night in a frog suit doing demos and promoting ribl, which was very tiring.

mike in frog costume

This frog was not that happy at the end of SXSW.

By Sunday, on only the third of five days of SXSW, I was already feeling the effects of burnout. I was tired, hungover, and mentally fried, and didn’t attend any SXSW events during the day. I did not want to get into that frog suit again. But I did, and attended a few parties that evening.

On Monday, I took a full day off from the conference and did nothing. On Tuesday, I attended a few panels and took a couple of meetings sans frog suit. On Wednesday, I was really happy to leave Austin and head home.

The lesson here is that for these long conferences, you need to pace yourself to get the most out of them. Maybe I wouldn’t be saying this if I were 10 years younger, but who knows. I was really busy and went out really hard in the beginning and was totally worn down by day three.

The same can be said about startups and entrepreneurship overall. I think one of the reasons I was depressed was that our product wasn’t ready for prime time and while we received great feedback, we didn’t achieve the number of downloads and engagement level that we wanted to see from the event. And because of this lack of success, I felt even more guilty when I wasn’t wearing the frog suit and promoting ribl. It was a pretty vicious cycle.

But I realized that this is just the beginning. While SXSW didn’t go perfectly, we actually launched the app, which is a win in itself, and laid the foundation to grow in the future. I met a bunch of people who really loved the app and want to help promote it. And I learned that SXSW is not the be-all, end-all for tech startups; it’s only a step in the process.

I’m not usually this short-sighted, and I think the fatigue and time away from home just wore me down. The ribl team and I are in this for the long haul and SXSW is only the beginning of a long, fruitful journey. Running a startup is a marathon, not a sprint.

Don’t go it alone

If you’re attending a conference to promote your startup or company, do not do it alone. Don’t do it!

First of all, SXSW and many other conferences are so big that you can’t possibly get the most out of them if you’re working by yourself. You can only put up so many stickers and talk to so many people, and it won’t be enough.

Second, because promoting your company is such a grind, you’ll want to have someone to lean on and speak with when you’re tired and worn out.

Third, it sucks attending events and showing up at parties alone. It’s much better when you have that other person you know will be by your side.

This is the same for startups in general.

There’s just too much to do, and you likely don’t have all the skills you need to build a successful business on your own.

Building a startup is a grind, and you need that shoulder to lean on when times are tough.

And knowing that your co-founder(s) will be by your side will make the journey all that more enjoyable.

Businesses with multiple founders are more likely to succeed for the reasons above, so don’t try to do it alone.

Care a little less sometimes

One of the reasons why I got so down at SXSW was that I care A LOT about ribl. The development of the app wasn’t where we thought it would be and we didn’t garner as many downloads as we wanted, and the combination of this lack of success with the passion I have for the company really dampened my spirit.

I realized that sometimes you just need to disconnect and care a little less about your work. When I took time away from SXSW on Sunday and Monday, I spent time with the friends at whose home I was staying. We ate some great BBQ, hung out at Zilker Park, and just relaxed. I also went for a run to clear my mind. And even though ribl was still in the back of my mind, I was able to disconnect a little bit and enjoy Austin outside of SXSW.

The same can be applied to the everyday grind of building a startup. Running a business can be an all-encompassing endeavor and if you don’t disconnect sometimes, burnout will be inevitable. Make sure you set time aside to exercise, take a vacation, and relax. Go out to eat, have your friends over, and turn off your cell phone. Care a little less sometimes.

Conclusion

SXSW was a great event at which to promote ribl but it certainly had its side effects on me. I learned a lot about how not to burn out at multi-day conferences, and these lessons can be applied to the everyday grind of building a business. If you remind yourself that startups are marathons, having a co-founder is a great thing, and caring a little less can really help, you’ll avoid burning out.

What do you think about my experience? Do you have any stories or additional tips to avoid burnout? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

Photo courtesy of Healthylifestyleart.com.

Guest blog post for CEA: Should Non-Technical Startup Founders Learn to Code?

Check out my latest guest post for the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) titled, “Should Non-Technical Startup Founders Learn to Code?

If you’re a non-technical founder looking to start a startup, you’re at the mercy of software developers whom you need to build your product. To avoid this problem, should you learn to code?

Learning software development is a huge time and mental commitment and your decision basically comes down to one question – is this the best use of your time? Read more.

Enjoy!

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