Inside My Brain

Thoughts about startups, tech, marketing, and life

CATEGORY: Careers

Don’t be enamored with the vehicle, but what makes it run – knowledge from Questlove

I recently listened to an interview with Questlove of The Roots on Alec Baldwin’s podcast, Here’s the Thing.

Questlove is an extremely thoughtful, introspective, and smart person who had a ton to say about history, dieting, and much more.

But one of the quotes he said that stood out to me was that he “wasn’t enamored with the vehicle, but what makes it run.” I’m kind of paraphrasing the quote because I’m too lazy to go through the interview again to find exactly what he said. Sorry about that.

Anyway, I think that quote is very powerful.

Don’t pay all of your attention to that big end goal. Rather, focus on each specific, smaller task that you’ll have to accomplish to reach that goal, and you’ll achieve it.

Let’s take entrepreneurship, for instance. If you’re a startup founder looking for that big exit but can’t stand the day-to-day grind, you’ll never make it. But if you work hard every day and continue to learn every way to best serve your customers, you’ll have a better chance to build a successful business.

If you’re raising a child, are you longing for the day your kid turns 18 so he or she can go off to college? Or are you enjoying as many moments together as you can?

Are you working toward that one day when you can retire, or trying to make the most of each day of work and enjoy the ride?

Many times the journey is more important than the destination. So don’t be so enamored with the vehicle, but what makes it run.

The life of a startup founder – when little things are big deals

Head in Hands

Here’s a little story about how warped my brain is from entrepreneurship, the roller coaster ride that being a startup founder is, and how my idea of a “win” has drastically changed.

Over the last couple of months, I’ve been doing customer development for my startup, WinOptix. I’ve spoken to over 30 government contracting business development folks to learn about their problems with the BD process and pitch my concept to get feedback.

I learned so much about the government contracting industry and received a ton of great feedback.

And to my surprise, one of these interviewees (let’s call him Victor, not his real name) said that he would pay to have a tool like WinOptix built!

(Yes, I definitely got excited about this at the time, but that isn’t the situation I’m writing about in this post.)

I told Victor I would get back to him soon. I hadn’t even incorporated the company nor did I have the ability to build the product, so I had to get to work on both fronts before moving the potential engagement forward.

At the same time, I was setting up my new WinOptix email address with Google’s G Suite. I emailed Victor from that new account.

Usually I would set up email forwarding to my primary email address so I can manage everything from one account and not have to check multiple inboxes. Except I forgot to do so this time.

Of course, Victor emailed me to set up a time to chat about moving forward soon. And I didn’t receive the email until I checked my WinOptix account much later. UGH.

I replied with an apology. No response. I emailed him again. No response. And again. No response.

I was totally bummed out that I might have missed out on the first paying customer because of a stupid email setup mistake. This could have been huge for WinOptix, and I just banged my head on the wall about how dumb I was and how I screwed up a massive opportunity.

I couldn’t stop thinking about my screw up and how I might have missed out on my first customer. I actually had some trouble sleeping and was down on myself for a while.

After a couple of weeks, I made a last-ditch effort and gave Victor a call.

To my surprise, he picked up the phone! He said he saw my emails and was planning to respond, but had been so swamped that he didn’t have time. And he said he was still interested in working together on the product, and will reach out soon.

I was ecstatic, just because of a simple phone call.

I didn’t even get a firm commitment, but the simple fact that the potential deal was still alive and that I didn’t totally screw it up was a big win to me.

I thought about how this situation – an email setup snafu, a missed email, then the redeeming phone call – is such a small, insignificant blip in the big picture.

But the impact that it had on me was profound.

Then I thought about a couple of things:

  1. Is this relatively small situation having such a major impact on my psyche a good thing for me?
  2. Is my reaction to this situation a telling sign of my ability to be an entrepreneur? Do I need to be more even keeled and steady, and not get so high when good things happen and so low when bad things happen?
  3. Do other early-stage entrepreneurs feel the same way?
  4. What does this situation say about my attention to detail?
  5. If I worked for a larger corporation, what would be an analogous situation, and would I feel the same way?

I’ll write more about these thoughts in future posts. To be continued…

What do you think about this situation? Did I overreact? Have you been through something like this – where a small situation has a profound impact on you? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Photo courtesy of Alex Proimos on Flickr

When the Guilt Creeps In

I’ve recently realized that I feel guilty more often now than I probably ever have.

It’s not that I feel guilty for doing things in the past that I regret, because I have very few regrets. It’s more like I feel guilty when I don’t do things that I know I should be doing.

For instance, I just was not motivated to work the other day. I was tired, hadn’t exercised in a while (which makes me feel like crap), and just couldn’t get myself to attack important tasks. I completed a few little tasks that took minimal brainpower, but just couldn’t get myself to get the bigger, more important things done.

And I felt completely guilty about it.

I have a ton of projects for work. I have a laundry list of tasks to do around the house (which many times includes laundry), there are everyday things to do to take care of Maya, and a bunch of other general life events going on. And I feel guilty when I’m not taking care of these tasks.

I feel guilty when I check social media instead of working on mockups for my startup. I feel guilty when I sit down to watch TV, which doesn’t happen all that often anymore, instead of searching for ceiling fans to buy for the house. I feel guilty when I read and respond to email when I should be writing that blog post or eBook. And I feel guilty when I read all of these blog posts from entrepreneurs about how productive they are EVERY…SINGLE…SECOND.

I didn’t feel this way in the past, at least not to this extent. Maya didn’t exist 22 months ago, so that was never an issue in the past. But I didn’t feel guilty checking my personal email during my prior jobs. I didn’t mind taking a long break to socialize with my coworkers. I didn’t feel sorry for going to the gym in the middle of the day.

Maybe becoming an entrepreneur changed all that. And getting married. And having a kid. Maybe I care more about these things that are part of my life now, than what was part of my life back then. I’m not sure.

A possible solution would be to not do the things I shouldn’t be doing, and do all of those things that I should be doing, all the time. Then I won’t feel guilty, right?

Yeah, I suppose. But eventually that will lead to burnout.

I think the problem for me is accepting that not all of my time needs to spent on getting things done. Taking some time to do something brainless every once in a while is OK. Actually, it’s probably a good thing.

It’s tough to disconnect from work when you’re trying to get a startup off the ground. But doing so every so often is much better in the long run, for your physical and mental health.  Still, it’s a difficult thing to do.

Do you feel guilty when you’re not being as productive as you can be? If so, how do you deal with it? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

I’m a man of diverse interests – is that a bad thing?

I have a lot of interests and a broad set of skills. I’m what you may call a jack of all trades, master of none. And I keep wondering if that is hurting me.

Nearly four years ago, I blogged about whether breadth or depth was better for your career.

I started out in materials science and engineering in undergrad. I got bored of it so I didn’t pursue a job in the field after graduation. Instead, I went to grad school for industrial engineering.

Then I went into consulting, what can be considered one of the most generalist professions.

When I got bored of that, I went back to business school and upon graduation, got a job in sports marketing.

Now I’m a tech entrepreneur, marketer, and product guy.

Clearly, I fall into the breadth camp. Or maybe the “get bored quickly” camp.

I was drawn to consulting, marketing, and product because of their breadth. I moved away from materials science because of its specificity.

I’m not saying that I should have stuck with materials science. But if I had stuck to a single function or industry, would I be further along than where I am today? Maybe. I’m not sure.

There are so many conflicting points of view about this. Some say you should focus on your strengths and have others do the rest. Others say to stop focusing on your strengths. Some say focus on one business, others say diversify your life.

I don’t know what the right answer is. And apparently many “experts” don’t agree, either.

I think the important thing is to continue to learn what you need to learn to improve, whether that subject matter is related to your strengths or weaknesses.

I learn a lot about marketing every day and continue to strengthen that strength.

Also, I’m a shitty programmer but I continue to learn to code because I think every tech entrepreneur should have at least some of that knowledge.

But this doesn’t stop me from thinking about whether I’d be better served by focusing on one thing or broadening my skills, and whether my diversity of interests is a bad thing.

What are your thoughts about having diverse interests? I’d love to hear your story.

How is your work judged – by hours, output, or results?

There are many ways to judge how well someone is doing their job, but I’ve been thinking about three primary ones – hours, output, and results – and the impact they have on each other.

Hours

If you’re judged on hours, you likely have to show up at an office, log your time, and directly trade time for money.

Lawyers and consultants are judged this way, where billable hours and utilization are the main metrics. These firms charge their clients some crazy amount for each hour of their employees’ time, so it makes sense to maximize the number of hours worked.

Another form of being judged by hours is how big corporations do it.

These large organizations force you to work in the office from 9-5 and as long as you show your face and maybe get some work done, you’re all good. Many times it doesn’t really matter how much work has been done in that time, as long as the time gets logged. Ever see Office Space? You know what I’m talking about.

Output

Being assessed by output is different, of course.

If you’re a sales rep, you may be judged on the amount of sales calls you make or appointments you book.

If you’re a content marketer, you may be assessed by the number of blog posts you publish.

Software developer? Your main metric might be how many lines of code you create.

Judging by output is certainly better than assessing by time spent, as there is evidence that work has been done.

Results

Results is where the rubber meets the road.

If you’re a lawyer, did you win or lose the case?

If you’re a consultant, did your strategy get implemented, and was it effective? How did it impact your clients’ bottom line?

If you’re a sales rep, how much revenue did your sales calls bring in, and what is your win rate?

Nearly every job can be measured by results, which is the best measure of effectiveness. Unfortunately not every company chooses to do so.

The interaction between hours, output, and results

These three criteria don’t exist in their own vacuums.

High output can potentially lead to great results.

More blog posts written can lead to better search engine optimization (assuming the posts are high quality), which can lead to more web traffic and sales.

More sales calls can lead to more revenue. Even if you have a low win rate, the more calls you make, the more deals you may be able close.

While more code may not necessarily mean better software, the more code you write, the better you’ll get at software development, which will lead to better software.

And if you work hard, create a lot of output, and see good results, you may enjoy your work more and create even more output.

But more hours won’t necessarily lead to more output or better results.

A law firm can pile on the hours and still lose the case. A consulting firm can deploy a ton of consultants’ time and come up with the wrong solution.

And it’s these companies that judge effectiveness on hours worked that are being disrupted. The consulting industry is undergoing change, while the legal industry is in decline.

On a personal level, more hours may be detrimental to your output and results, as you might burn out and wind up hating your job.

So take a moment and think about how your work is being judged, and whether you want to be assessed in that manner.

If not, what will you do about it?

Focus, Discipline, and Consistency – my three goals for 2017

Happy New Year!

I didn’t make any resolutions for 2016, and I still won’t make any for 2017.

What I’m going to do is be as focused, disciplined, and consistent as I possibly can in everything that I do.

Let’s see what I mean.

Focus

I want to be more focused on both a macro and micro level.

On a macro level, I want to do fewer things, better.

That’s why I stopped producing my podcast. As much as I loved interviewing entrepreneurs every week, the podcast wasn’t getting me closer to my goal of launching and growing a successful startup.

So the time and mindshare that was spent on producing the podcast are now dedicated to working on my startup (more about my startup at a later time).

I’m still going to be involved with Startup Weekend, but I’ll limit my time on that as well.

On a micro level, I want to increase my focus on the task at hand, whether said task is for work or personal life.

When I’m working, I will minimize distractions from email, social media, and any other interruptions that come my way. I’ll dedicate specific times to check my email and limit my time on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media.

On the personal side, I just want to be more present in everything I do. For example, if I’m hanging out with my daughter, I’ll truly focus my attention on her instead of checking my phone every 10 minutes. I’ll concentrate on the people I’m with and the task at hand. It sounds simple, but in today’s world of technology all around us, I need to make that conscious effort to stay focused.

Focus is so crucial, and I aim to be more intentional about it in everything that I do.

Discipline

I’m going to work hard at being disciplined with my time and energy.

To do so, I’m going to schedule everything. All of my work tasks will be inputted into my calendar and assigned a specific time allotment. This will help me avoid Parkinson’s Law – where work will expand to fill the time available for its completion.

I’m also going to be more disciplined in my diet and exercise regimen. Vicky and I are starting our ketosis diet again, and I aim to exercise at least a little bit every day, whether that’s an hour at the gym or 15 minutes of push-ups and sit-ups.

Consistency

Finally, I’ll work hard to create a consistent cadence in everything I do.

On the work front, I’ll do a little bit every day to achieve my long term goals.

This might mean writing every day to consistently create blog posts for my role at Thorn Technologies, working on small tasks each night on my startup, or perform targeted engagement every day on social media sites.

In my personal life, this might mean working on a home project each week or being consistent in cleaning up the house.

Consistency is critical if you want to constantly get better and improve.

Conclusion

Focus, discipline, and consistency are my three goals for 2017 and beyond.

They’re not mutually exclusive, either.

It takes lots of focus to be disciplined, and lots of discipline to be focused and consistent.

If I can increase my focus, discipline, and consistency, 2017 is going to be my most productive year yet. And I believe I’ll improve my skills and relationships as well.

Let’s see how this goes!

What are your resolutions for 2017? Do you have enough focus, discipline, and consistency in all you do?

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

Are you patient enough?

I was going through the airport security checkpoint this morning and the man in front of me (I’ll call him “Dude”) looked really impatient.

The guy in front of him (I’ll call him “Guy”) wasn’t even moving that slowly. He was doing the typical things – taking off his shoes, putting his luggage on the conveyor, etc. – at a normal pace.

Dude was rolling his eyes, trying to move in front of Guy, and just being kind of pissy.

We walked through the metal detector and gathered our belongings. Dude was rushing and walked off while I grabbed my stuff.

When I looked up, I saw that Dude left his suitcase on the conveyor. I called to him and he had to walk back to grab his bag.

His impatience made him forget something really important and necessary.

(I thought about the fact that he might be late for his flight, but I found out he was on my flight, which wasn’t taking off for a while.)

This can happen to anyone. We’re all busy and have places to go, and we want to get there as fast as possible.

I admit I’ve been impatient when it comes to the startups I’ve been working on.

In the startup world, you’re supposed to “move fast and break things.”

You’re supposed to “fail fast”, “hire fast and fire fast”, talk fast, run fast, blah blah blah.

And I get impatient when progress isn’t made each and every day.

Maybe I need to better understand that things take time to develop.

For my first startup, I was impatient when things weren’t progressing. It failed for a number of reasons, but I think one of them was due to my impatience of things not moving fast enough. And I left some relationships behind.

I think moving fast is very important. In an ideal world, you’ll make quick decisions, build quickly, iterate, learn faster, and move forward.

But sometimes you need to understand that things take time, and some of the best products and companies take years and years to find success.

If you move too fast, you might leave things behind.

Have you ever left something behind because you were too impatient? Talk to me in the comments!

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Ever feel like you’re an impostor? That can be a good thing.

impostor girl in glasses

I had a conversation with my co-worker Rob yesterday and he was worried that he was an impostor. I said that in some scenarios, that’s actually a good thing.

Here’s the backstory.

Rob is a huge Pokemon Go fan and awesome iOS developer, and built an iPhone and Apple Watch companion app for the game called GoTypeChart.

The app helps you quickly figure out what type of Pokemon to use for Gym battles in Pokemon Go.

I don’t play the game, so I don’t know much, but apparently there isn’t always a right answer for which Pokemon to use in each scenario. And some other “experts” said that some of the recommendations in Rob’s app were wrong.

Due to the negative reactions to his app’s suggestions, he felt that he was just an amateur Pokemon Go player and didn’t deserve to have an app like this in the App Store.

Rob felt like an impostor.

I said that’s OK.

The word “impostor” has negative connotations that typically include fraud and trickery. It doesn’t always have to be viewed that way.

Everyone is an impostor at some point.

Any time you learn something new and try to apply what you learned to a problem you’ve never faced before, you’re an impostor. You don’t really know what you’re doing, but you’re giving it a shot.

If you pre-sell a product that doesn’t even exist yet, you’re an impostor. Kickstarter? Full of impostors. But that’s a damn good thing that you were able to do that.

If you build an app but aren’t really sure what you’re doing, you’re an impostor. But you’re building something and putting your skills out on display, and that’s brave.

Impostors may lie and say that they know what they are doing, when they really don’t. But if you give it a shot and learn along the way, being an impostor can be a good thing. It means that you’re trying new things and growing.

So go ahead and be an impostor (the good kind).

Have you ever felt like an impostor, and what did you do about it? Talk to me in the comments!

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please share this article with the share buttons on the left! That’d be awesome of you.

Image courtesy of Jason Eppink on Flickr

How important is alma mater when assessing job candidates?

graduation cap

Over the weekend, my buddies and I had a conversation about how much it matters where a candidate attended college when he or she is applying for a job. The context was that if I were to review a stack of resumes, how powerful of a signal is their alma mater?

One of my friends said that the university attended is a strong differentiator. He works in the pharmaceutical industry, and his argument is that many of the candidates have worked for other strong pharmaceutical companies, and that work experience is essentially equivalent. Thus, the college degree from a place like Stanford will trump the one from Rutgers. (Sorry, Rutgers.)

The other friend, who works in advertising and creative, argued that work experience trumps all, and that this experience will almost never be equivalent across candidates. Where the candidate went to college carries very little weight, and the companies where the person worked prior and the quality of work that he or she produced is a much stronger signal that can be defined.

I agree with both of them, because both situations are so different.

In the first scenario, I think where the candidate went to college is more important in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines. These “hard” subjects are more clear-cut and objective, and the differences in formal training and education can be vast from college to college.

Also, it may be more difficult to differentiate the work each candidate has done in prior pharmaceutical and other scientific companies. Many times the work contains research that may not come to fruition or management of drugs that have been around for decades, so the impact of a single candidate can’t be determined accurately.

In the other scenario, I love the fact that employment can be based solely on the quality of worked that is produced – a pure meritocracy – and pedigree is a much less influential factor. A job really comes down to how you perform, so why shouldn’t your selection be based solely on your performance in prior jobs?

I do think this may be a bit easier to execute in “softer,” more creative jobs, those where you can actually produce an end product. If you’re a graphic or web designer, you can have a portfolio to display your work. If you’re an advertiser, you may have ad campaigns that you’ve worked on that can be seen, heard, and assessed, even if that assessment may be subjective.

Startups align more with the second scenario; if you are a co-founder, your success is judged solely by the performance of your company.

On the other hand, I think that some venture capitalists will look at the founders’ pedigree as a strong signal of whether to fund the company or not. A software engineer from Stanford or MIT may be more likely to be funded than a business major from the University of Central Florida. (Sorry, UCF.)

I can certainly see both sides. I have degrees from Lehigh, Georgia Tech, and NYU; nothing elite, but very respectable schools. So I can probably get by on my pedigree in certain situations, but chose the route where merit rules.

I just hope that I don’t ever have to apply for a job again. 🙂

Regardless, like many other things, the value of an alma mater comes down to the specific situation.

How important is alma mater when you’re assessing who to hire? And how important has your alma mater been in your career?

Tell me about it in the comments!

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How does other people’s success make you feel?

Unless you’re Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, or some other ridiculously wealthy person, there is always going to be someone who is more successful than you are, at least financially.

How does that make you feel?

I think other people’s success can bring out a spectrum of feelings.

Starting from the crappy end, you can be jealous and hateful.

You can complain that the 1%-ers get preferential treatment, claim that these people were raised with a silver spoon in their mouths, and say that they don’t deserve what they have. You can spew hate on social media or any other channel. That’s pure negativity.

Moving up the spectrum one step, you can be envious.

You don’t have what other successful people have, but you want it. There is definitely less outward hating going on, but inside you stew a little bit that others are further along than you are.

Next on the scale is indifference. Maybe you don’t really care about other people’s success and you’re cool with your current situation.

Finally, there is inspiration. Seeing others’ success motivates you to work harder, continue to learn, and achieve more. Witnessing how others have found their path in life makes you believe you can do the same and attain those levels of happiness, wealth, and satisfaction.

It doesn’t always have to be about the money, either. Success can be defined by your personal and social life, fitness and health, career, or some combination of those and other factors.

For me, in terms of my personal life, I’m indifferent and content. I have an amazing family, great friends, and a beautiful home in a great city. I’m healthy and happy.

Regarding my career, I feel a mixture of envy and inspiration.

I can’t help but be envious of other people’s career success, primarily because I haven’t quite found where I want to be and thus I haven’t gotten there yet. I haven’t made the impact that I’d like to as an entrepreneur, so I’m naturally envious of those who have.

But I do think it’s a healthy envy that inspires me to work harder, get smarter, and keep grinding. I want what others have, and I’m not talking about money. I want to launch and grow a company and have a positive impact on people’s lives, like many other entrepreneurs have done.

So how does other people’s success make you feel?

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

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