Inside My Brain

Thoughts about startups, tech, marketing, and life

CATEGORY: Business

In poker, business, and life, there’s only one real way to learn – by doing

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I took the last two weeks off from blogging because I was traveling for Thanksgiving to NY/NJ and the Amazon Web Services re:Invent conference in Vegas. I hope you didn’t miss me too much.

Anyway, while in Vegas, I of course had to hit up the poker table. Many times.

During one late night/early morning session, a pretty young guy (let’s call him Chad, I don’t remember his real name) who was also there for the conference sat down next to me. Nice guy, pretty chatty, and probably had a few drinks in him, like everyone else at the table.

He sat down with $100 and lost it within 20 minutes.

He whipped out another $100 and lost that within another 15 minutes, most of it to me on one hand.

He took out another $100. At this point, the guy sitting on the other side of him and I started helping Chad out a little. We told him how it was OK to fold once in a while (he essentially played every hand), the importance of position, and other poker fundamentals.

Regardless, he lost that last $100 pretty quickly.

When he left the table, I looked around and said “I guess there’s only one way to learn,” and everyone had a good laugh.

You can read all the poker books in the world and watch the World Poker Tour on TV, but once you step into that casino and sit down at the poker table, everything changes. And the only way to learn is to play a lot of real hands and probably lose some money.

You can read all the books and blog posts about how to build a company, recruit a team, develop a product, and more, but until you actually start putting in real work, you won’t learn how to do all that.

You can prepare yourself for raising that baby, but childcare books won’t ever prepare you enough for changing that first shitty diaper or dealing with a 2-year old’s temper tantrum.

The only real way to learn anything is to do it.

I’m not sure if Chad will learn from his experience in Vegas. After all, it was late, he was probably drunk, and it’s Vegas, so who really cares about losing a little money, right?

Regardless, the lesson is that there’s no better way to learn than by actually doing.

You’ll never be able to replicate situations at the poker table, in business, or life. The only way to learn is having the direct experience of doing.

So what will you do today to learn?

The Two Sides of Ambition

Trudy Campbell Mad Men quote

Image courtesy of Hark.com

The above quote is one of my favorite, because it is so true.

Ambition is one of the most powerful motivators. The determination to succeed and win can drive you to great heights.

Some of the most successful people in the world did not crush it right out of the gate.

Vincent Van Gogh only sold one painting while he was alive, author J.K. Rowling was a broke single mother before her Harry Potter books hit it big, and the Beatles had to play thousands of shows at tiny clubs before getting noticed.

It was ambition and determination that helped these people work through the hard times and eventually achieve success.

On the other hand, there are plenty of ambitious people in this world who don’t see this level of success. What happens then?

Maybe your work isn’t being appreciated. In Mad Men, Peter Campbell is frustrated with not getting the recognition he deserves for winning clients for his firm. Hence, Trudy’s quote.

In this case, having ambition when you’re being held back can lead to dissatisfaction and frustration.

Maybe you have ambitions of being an entrepreneur but you’re burdened by financial responsibilities, such as student loans, a mortgage, and a family to feed. On top of that, if you hate your job, your ambition may lead to anger and resentment.

As you can see, ambition can cut both ways.

I think I’m a very ambitious person and have high expectations of myself. So at times when things aren’t going well with my career, I can get frustrated and envious of those around me who have achieved a high level of success.

How you react to your situation and harness your ambition will determine whether it’s a good or bad thing.

You have a few options here.

One option is that you can complain how you’re being held back and there’s nothing you can do about it. You can stay frustrated and let it continue to eat away at you. This will likely lead to strained relationships, poor performance, and an overall miserable existence.

The next option is just accepting your situation. You can weigh the pros and cons of the scenario – maybe your salary and job security is worth the lack of recognition or inability to become an entrepreneur – and just roll with it. While this isn’t ideal and you may have to temper your ambitions, you’ll likely live a relatively comfortable, satisfying life with good relationships.

Or, you can do something about it.

Speak up and ask for what you believe you deserve. Find another job. Strike out on your own, where you fully control your destiny. Or simply keep working and hustling hard.

Ambition can be an amazing trait to have, but it can also become a burden if you don’t harness it the right way. So make sure you do.

When quantity is better than quality

When Quantity is better than Quality - LI post

I believe that in many situations, quantity is more beneficial than quality.

About a year and a half ago, I wrote an article titled “Quality vs. Quantity – which should you focus on?“, where I questioned whether quantity or quality is more important in marketing and startups.

This argument clearly struck a chord, as that post received over 2,100 views, 419 Likes, and 103 comments on LinkedIn (the most ever for me, by far!).

I’ve been continuously thinking about that argument ever since I penned that article.

And while it may be controversial, I believe that quantity trumps quality in many situations. Hear me out.

Examples where quantity trumps quality

Let’s talk about content marketing. As long as you produce some minimum level of quality content, I believe that the more pieces of content you produce, the better off you’ll be compared to producing fewer, “great” pieces of content.

The longer you stick with creating content, the more pieces of content you’ll create, and the more you’ll be on the top of your audience’s mind. If you only create a few pieces of long, great content, they may be successful for a little while, but you won’t engage your audience frequently enough to have a lasting impact.

For example, Gary Vaynerchuk is EVERYWHERE. He posts at least 6 or 7 pieces of content per day. His content is good, but I wouldn’t say that it’s of the  highest quality and production value, because that’s not what he’s going for. He documents – he doesn’t “create” – so he can crank out as many pieces of content as possible. And now he’s internet famous.

Venture capitalist Fred Wilson is similar. He writes everyday on his blog, and he does not always write good articles. He writes some solid, insightful pieces about startups, technology, and venture capital, but other times he writes about his vacations or just posts a link to a video. But he has written everyday for the past 14 years and thus has amassed a very large audience.

More customers is better than fewer customers who love your product.

Take EverPix, for example. EverPix was a beloved photo storage app which many called one of the best of its kind. Yet the company was only able to acquire 6,800 paying customers and died.

Wouldn’t you like to have more customers, some of which might be a pain in the ass, instead of fewer, perfect customers? Your revenue will be greater, your company will be larger, and you’ll make more money.

In Silicon Valley, venture capitalists fund entrepreneurs who are attacking large markets. And apps that have many users but little revenue and profit get funded (e.g. Snapchat in its early days) because VCs believe that if you build a large audience, you can eventually monetize that audience. I’m not saying this philosophy is correct nor is building a venture-scale business the only way to go, but it’s reality – scale and large markets get the dollars.

I can go on and on and name many other situations where quantity trumps quantity.

Here’s why I think this is.

Quality is subjective, quantity isn’t

Game of Thrones is an amazing TV show with a great plot, well-developed characters, and some of the highest production values ever. But some people still don’t like it.

I would not say that The Macarena was a good song. But it became one of the biggest one-hit wonders ever.

If you meet some minimum threshold of quality and consistently create, you will be able to find an audience that will like your work, because quality is subjective, and quantity isn’t.

Quantity can lead to quality

James Altucher preaches about thinking of 10 ideas everyday. Yeah, most of them will be crap, but out of those hundreds or thousands of ideas, there will be few that will be really good.

Your first few blog posts, podcast episodes, or videos will definitely be shit. But if you create (or document) every day, you’re going to learn very quickly about what it takes to improve and create awesome content. If you take two months to create that perfect video, you won’t learn fast enough.

The more customers you have, the more you can learn from them to improve your product or service, and faster.

Quantity can lead to quality, and that’s a powerful thing.

Conclusion

I’m sure I am going to get roasted.

But I do believe that quantity trumps quality in many scenarios.

Go ahead, roast away! I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Where do you get your energy from?

I recently listened to an episode of The Growth Show podcast and the guest was Noah Kagan, CEO of Sumo.com and AppSumo.

The episode was primarily about how Noah was continually learning new skills and how he went about doing so.

A lot of that learning advice was valuable, but the one thing that stuck out to me was when Noah talked about the importance of finding “where you get your energy from.” He quoted a book and said that it’s not about how much time that you have during the day, it’s about how you allocate your energy towards things in your day.

I thought that was really profound.

Enjoying what you do, whether it’s work or play, is one thing. Doing something that gives you energy is on a whole other level.

At work, I enjoy marketing. But what really gives me energy is working with smart people, engaging with entrepreneurs, learning from customers, and building something from nothing.

In my free time, I enjoy watching Netflix. But that doesn’t really give me energy. What gives me energy is playing sports, hanging with my family, and interacting with my friends.

If you do things that give you energy, you’ll stick with those activities for longer, do them more often, and get the most out of them. You’ll learn more, and faster.

I thought that my dream job would be in the sports industry. My job at the Washington Capitals was an amazing gig, and I loved it and learned a lot from it.

But I also learned after a while that I really wanted to build something from the ground up, and that job didn’t really allow me to. It wasn’t so much the subject matter that was important, but the ability to build, launch, and grow something and take it from zero to one was what gave me energy.

And even though my startup career has been pretty rocky, it still gives me energy everyday.

So where do you get your energy from? And are you doing those things at work and in your free time? I’d love to hear about it.

Reps and Sets

I interviewed David Cancel, Co-founder and CEO of Drift, for my podcast a while ago. Drift just raised $32 million from top-tier investors, and he has started 5 companies. The guy knows what he’s doing.

One of the things he always talks about is “reps and sets.”

There aren’t any secrets, hacks, or shortcuts. Being consistent, putting in the work, and getting better everyday is the only way to success.

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Getting a little better everyday can be huge in the long run. Image courtesy of MathHub.

You won’t get in shape if you go to the gym twice a month. You won’t run lose weight if you’re not consistently eating healthy food. You won’t learn to code if you’re not doing it and educating yourself everyday.

Reps and sets. It’s as simple as that.

Success doesn’t happen overnight

I keep telling myself that.

AirBNB is a massive success, and it feels like they got there overnight. But according to CEO Brian Chesky, their “overnight” success took a little longer than that.

overnightsuccess

Gary Vaynerchuk talks about this all the time. The guy is absolutely everywhere today, but it has taken him over a decade and thousands of videos and articles to build his audience.

James Clear had a great tweetstorm about the amount of work that you need to, over a long time, to be successful.

There aren’t any hacks or shortcuts to success.

I keep telling myself that.

Whenever something isn’t going right with my startup or my day job, I keep telling myself to be patient.

Whenever I’m coding (I’m learning Python) and I can’t figure something out, I keep telling myself that the solution will come with time (and a bunch of research on Stack Overflow).

When I go to the gym, I don’t expect to lose my gut after one workout.

Things take time.

Of course, you always want to be able to learn faster and do more in a shorter period of time. Sometimes you can, sometimes you can’t.

Sometimes you have magical epiphanies, other times you just have to grind away until you figure it out.

All of that takes time. It ain’t gonna happen tomorrow.

I keep telling myself that.

Image courtesy of StartupTxt.com

The importance of taking time off from work

Career regret

A couple of weeks ago, a story about a woman who took a couple of days off from work to focus on her mental health went viral.

In summary, Madalyn Parker, an engineer who works for live chat company Olark, wrote an email to her team that said she was taking the next couple of days off to focus on her mental health. The company’s CEO responded, praising her for her email and stressing how important it is to take time off.

This is an ongoing issue in the startup world, where 80-hour work weeks are often the norm and considered cool. David Heinemeier Hansson, the creator of Ruby on Rails and CTO of Basecamp, completely disagrees.

In the early days of my career in consulting, I used very few of my vacation days, and the thought of taking time off to work on my mental health never even crossed my mind.

When I was working for the Washington Capitals, the seasonality of the job didn’t really allow us to take any days off between September and May (when the Caps would crap the bed in the playoffs). We would take some time of in the summer, but even then I didn’t take full advantage of it.

I thought that taking days off would slow my ascent up the ladder. If I was the hardest working person in the company, I would get promoted and get more responsibility and authority.

Looking back, all that crap didn’t matter.

Unless you have a terrible manager, no one is going to ding you for taking days off. And as important and valuable as you are, your big company will go on without you and will still be there when you return. It’s harsh but true.

But as an entrepreneur, taking days off matters more, both for better and worse.

Any day that you’re not working on your product or business is a day of progress and potentially revenue lost. For each day that you take off, your competitors may be moving ahead of you, and it’s a day where you’re just not learning anything.

But if you don’t take time off, you won’t be able to recharge and your mind will never be 100%. You likely won’t be able to make those creative breakthroughs that are so important to the success of a company. You’ll get burned out.

Quite a predicament, huh?

Personally, I’ve been feeling a lot of guilt lately. I keep thinking that I don’t do enough for my day job, I don’t do enough for WinOptix, and I don’t do enough as a parent and husband. I don’t know how much of that is true or if it’s just me.

One possible answer is that I can work harder. Dedicate more hours to my day job, stay up later to work on WinOptix, and spend more time with my family.

You can see just how impossible that is.

Hopefully it’s just all in my head. And I think some time away will help clear my mind and be more comfortable with my situation. It has to be real time away though, where I’m truly physically and mentally disconnected from work. Otherwise, it’s not really time away.

On that note, I’ll be traveling to Thailand for the next couple of weeks to attend my cousin’s wedding, hang out with some elephants and tigers, see some temples, and eat some amazing Thai food. I’ll see family that I haven’t seen in a long time, and spend time with my family exploring very different environments.

I’m going to take this time to reflect on my current situation, think about the path forward, and reset my mind. So I won’t be blogging over the next three Fridays. Hopefully I’ll come back refreshed, less guilt-ridden, and ready to kick some ass.

See you in a few weeks. And remember, go take a day or two off from work and don’t feel guilty about it. It’ll help in the long run.

Doing things you don’t have to do

Some of the biggest breakthroughs have come from people doing things that they didn’t have to do.

Though it’s largely gone now, Google didn’t have to implement their famous 20% time program, where their employees could spend 20% of their hours working on side projects that might help the company. And their engineers didn’t have to work on these side projects if they didn’t want to. But Google and its employees did things they didn’t have to do, which led to amazing products such as Gmail, Google News, AdSense, and more.

Famed investor Marc Andreessen asks himself, “What do the nerds do on nights and weekends?” when searching for new investment opportunities. The side projects of these nerds may eventually lead to something that changes the world.

Gary Vaynerchuk doesn’t have to create that 500th Instagram post or that 1000th video. But he wants to buy the New York Jets, so he continues to crank out content.

Everyone needs to work to make money, put food on the table, and live life. But when you do things you don’t have to do, whether it’s within your company or on the side, that’s when special things can happen.

Maybe you have some ideas of how to improve how your company hires, but you work in Manufacturing and have little to no contact with HR. So what? Ask your boss and a HR rep to see if you can take on a side project that helps your company improve its hiring processes. That could lead to your company getting better at recruiting and retaining the best employees, and becoming an industry leader.

Or maybe you’re in Accounting and do a lot of repetitive things at your job. You can learn some programming on the side to automate some of your tedious tasks and become more efficient. This can lead to promotions and even a career change.

Start a blog or podcast about something you’re interested in. That could eventually turn into a money maker down the road.

If you have an interest, just explore it. Start learning. Do things that you don’t have to do, do them consistently, and don’t be afraid to learn and fail. Amazing things can happen.

How credible do you need to be to create content?

Back in the day, the only way to gain credibility in your career was to go to a top-tier college, work for some brand-name, behemoth organization, climb the corporate ladder, and obtain some powerful title like “VP of Corporate Development” or “Senior Managing General Partner.”

Now, with LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, Medium, and other blogging and social platforms, you can build your credibility without going the corporate route.

Look at Gary Vaynerchuk.

He was just a kid helping his parents run their local NJ wine store. No one knew who he was, and he certainly was not known as a wine expert like Robert Parker.

But he tasted thousands of wines and posted over 1000 video reviews on Wine Library TV. This helped transform him into a wine expert and grow the wine store into a $60 million business.

And now Gary is a living legend in the business world.

Every now and again, I have conversations with people who have thoughts about starting a blog or a podcast. All of them always ask the question, “what the hell should I write about? I don’t have real credibility in anything, so no one is going to read.”

My first answer is that everyone has some credibility in something.

You’ve been doing a job for X years, write about your work. Do you have a hobby that you enjoy and are good at? Write about that.

And to tell you the truth, even if you had a high level of credibility on a subject, that doesn’t necessarily lead to an audience. You still have to work hard at creating great content and distributing it consistently.

My second response is that even if you don’t have credibility, but are interested in a specific topic, just start chronicling your learning process.

The more your write (or record, or however you choose to deliver your message), the faster you’ll learn, the more credibility you’ll gain, and the more inspired you’ll be to keep learning.

You’ll connect with fellow learners and that’s when magic can happen. If you can connect with and help just one person out there, it’s totally worth it.

Everyone has “impostor syndrome” at some point. If you keep learning, you’ll get past the impostor stage are obtain that credibility. Yeah, there are some real impostors who claim to be credible but really aren’t. Avoid those people like the plague and don’t be one of them.

So it doesn’t really matter whether you’re credible or not. Get your thoughts and knowledge out there, and the world will be a better place for it.

Let Your Personality Shine in Your Product

A couple of years ago, the folks at startup accelerator Y Combinator put on a series of lectures called “How to Start a Startup” at Stanford University.

My favorite lecture was lecture 7, “How to Build Products Users Love“, which was presented by Kevin Hale, Founder of online form company Wufoo and now Partner at YC.

There is a TON of great information about user onboarding, customer support, and much more.

But the enduring theme that I took out of the lecture was how to incorporate your personality into your product to make it something that your users love to use.

With Wufoo, they did things like include interesting microcopy, like having “RARRR!” pop up when you hover over the dinosaur login button:

 

Wufoo login microcopy

 

 

Another example was from one of Wufoo’s customers who included some hilarious microcopy in their sign-up form:

Corkd form microcopy

 

Every time you open Slack, they’ll have an amusing message waiting for you to start your day:

Slack quote

 

Of course, you need to build a product that provides value to the user, is fast, doesn’t crash all the time, has solid design, and has all of the other baseline things that a good product should have.

But these little user experience details count a lot, and incorporating your personality into your product wherever possible can delight users and keep them coming back. It can build trust, put a smile on users’ faces, and make them feel loved.

While product designs will differ, many products that do similar things tend to feel the same. There are many online form tools like Wufoo that get the job done. But the microcopy and other details that reflect the company’s personality can be the difference in winning or losing that customer.

Have you encountered a product where you saw the company’s personality shine through? I’d love to hear your thoughts!