Inside My Brain

Thoughts about startups, tech, marketing, and life

CATEGORY: Careers

The “Why” drives everything

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you doing work that matters?

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

I ask myself this question often.

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

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

The first issue is defining exactly what work matters.

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

In some cases, it’s pretty clear.

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

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

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

Other times, it’s debatable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New experiment – 30 consecutive days of blogging

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

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

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

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

Actually, all of those are excuses, not reasons.

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

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

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

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

Anything.

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

They may be about startups and my entrepreneurial journey.

Or my family and friends.

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

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

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

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

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

At best, I’ll continue to blog everyday.

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

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

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

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

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.

What motivates you?

motivate

What motivates you? What lights a fire under your ass to get things done? Here are some of the things that get me going:

  1. Progress and momentum – just a little bit of progress each day, in any form, goes a long way.
  2. Creating change – being able to witness my impact on a project, event, or person inspires me to create more change.
  3. Collaborating with smart people – they open my eyes to new insights, approaches and techniques and help me improve.
  4. Getting stuff done with hard-working people –  people who just put their head down and crank out work are inspiring.
  5. Great ideas – many claim that ideas are worthless. While I agree that ideas without execution are worthless, great ideas are the beginning of unforgettable journeys that change the world.
  6. A cause – believing in a cause and a singular mission gives me direction in every decision I make and every thing I do.
  7. Seeing others succeed – when I see others succeed, I want to join them in their success.
  8. Taking risks – if I’m not taking risks and getting out of my comfort zone everyday, I’m not making the most of my time. I like taking risks and love seeing others do the same.
  9. Goals – setting and documenting clear, quantifiable goals (like my 2015 New Years resolutions) forces me to stay motivated to achieve them.

What motivates you to get things done?

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please connect with me on TwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn for future updates.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. Your entrepreneurial spirit lives on.

Happy Father’s Day to my Dad and all the Dads out there!

On this Father’s Day, the influence that my Dad has on my family is as evident as ever.

My Dad was an entrepreneur, having owned and operated several Chinese restaurants in New York City. When my sister and I were young, my father always told us that working for ourselves was the best path to both financial success and happiness (or satisfaction), and he instilled in us a mentality of curiosity and continuous learning.

This obviously had an effect on me and my sister. I’ve run my own businesses for almost two years now. And recently, my sister Julia jumped into the world of entrepreneurship by leaving her full-time job to focus on JSC Fitness and other endeavors. My father would be really proud right now.

I think he would be equally proud of the fact that we’ve been able to surround ourselves with amazing family to support us everyday.

My Mom was the bedrock for my Dad, working stable jobs in bookkeeping and accounting to bring in steady income that allowed my father to take on the risk of opening restaurants. My wife Vicky is the same; not only does she have the steady job, but she has to deal with my anxiety and uncertainty on a daily basis. And I know my brother-in-law Manuel is playing a very similar role for my sister. And of course, we all support each other.

Dad, I know you’re looking down on us with a smile on your face. And we hope we’re making you proud.

Happy Father’s Day!

3 Lessons I Learned From Reading “Kitchen Confidential” and “The Hard Things About Hard Things”

Hard Things and Kitchen Confidential

I recently read two excellent books – Kitchen Confidential by chef and TV star Anthony Bourdain and The Hard Thing About Hard Things by entrepreneur and uber venture capitalist Ben Horowitz – and took away some interesting lessons from both. While the books seemingly are unrelated – one is about the restaurant industry and the other about running a technology startup – I drew many parallels between the two and both gave me very similar insight. Here’s what I learned.

1) Being an Executive Chef and a CEO are pretty similar

The overarching aspects of running a kitchen and a startup are very much alike. You need to build a great team (more on this later), set your expectations, give your employees everything they need to succeed and let them do their thing.

In the kitchen, after putting together his team, Bourdain provided them with direction about the menu, guidance on how he likes things done, and the ingredients they need to create delicious food.

In his startup, Horowitz was responsible for raising money to keep the company going, setting expectations for all of the staff, and creating processes and a culture to allow everyone to flourish.

While the inputs may be different, the fundamental activities of an Executive Chef and startup CEO are similar.

2) There’s no glory in this stuff

It’s all hard work.

The Food Network and shows like Top Chef glorify the culinary world and make us think that cooking gourmet meals and running a restaurant are easily achievable. In the same vein, tech publications like TechCrunch and PandoDaily, who constantly report on startups who are “crushing it”, make it seem like running a startup is a piece of cake.

Quite the contrary. Both are complete grinds that wear you down physically and mentally. In the kitchen, your day may entail peeling 300 potatoes; no one will show that on TV. In a startup, you’re responsible for making cold calls, dealing with product bugs and issues, hearing customers complain, balancing the books, and many more menial, thankless tasks that are necessary to keep the lights on. Even when you leave the office, your mind never stops thinking about your company.

Both are grueling jobs that require passion and determination to succeed. If you’re in it only for the glory, you might want to pick another career. These books make that very evident.

3) People are everything

The most important task of executive chefs and startup CEOs is to put together the best team possible.

Bourdain stresses the importance of hiring the right people for his kitchen’s situation, which is typically an intense, raucous, profanity-laden environment where his employees are physically and mentally pushed to the edge. High falutin, entitled CIA graduates have been eaten alive in his kitchen; he prefers hard-working, tough-as-nails cooks manning his stations (ironically, Bourdain graduated from the CIA). Bourdain’s kitchens are well-oiled machines, and he completely depends on his employees, from the sous chef all the way down to his dishwashers, to achieve this. Thus, hiring the right candidates who will do anything to get the job done and who fit his kitchen’s culture is of utmost importance.

Same deal for startups. Horowitz’s company, Opsware (formerly LoudCloud), was similar to Bourdain’s kitchen – hard-charging and full of cursing. Thus, he had to hire the people who fit into this culture.

But the difference between a startup and a restaurant is how much the former changes over time; therefore, it’s important for the hiring process to adapt. In a startup, products and business models can change very quickly, and the right employees for today may not be the best employees for tomorrow. Regardless, you need to hire and maintain the best team possible.

Another great point that Horowitz explicitly made (and Bourdain made more implicitly) was to hire for the candidate’s strengths, not for lack of weaknesses. To portray this, Horowitz walked through his process for hiring a head of sales for Opsware. The candidate, named Mark Cranney, was awkward, introverted and generally not an affable guy, but he could sell snow to an Eskimo and train a team to do so. Everyone who interviewed him didn’t like him but Ben hired Mark anyway. He became a star and was critical to the growing the company to eventually sell to HP for $1.6 billion.

As Horowitz titled one of the chapters in his books, take care of the people, product, and profits – in that order. The most important task is to hire the best for your company’s – or kitchen’s – situation, and take care of those people and help them succeed.

I highly recommend reading both of these books even if you don’t work in these industries, as they are both educational and entertaining. You won’t regret it.

If you’ve read these books, what did you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the Comments section.

I hope you found this interesting! If so, please connect with me on TwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn for future updates.

Images courtesy of Amazon