Inside My Brain

Thoughts about startups, tech, marketing, and life

CATEGORY: Careers

Lessons I Learned From Messing Up My Breakfast Omelette

most interesting man - omelette

I’ve made an egg white omelette almost everyday for breakfast for the past few years, and I’ve gotten pretty good at it. Oil the pan, cook the veggies, oil the pan a little more, pour in the egg whites, move them around, flip the omelette, fold it onto the plate, done, yum.

But sometimes, like the other morning, the omelette doesn’t come out the way I expected. Maybe I didn’t put enough oil in the pan, or attempted to flip the omelette too early, or didn’t use enough wrist when I flipped the omelette. For whatever reason,  I wound up with a scrambled egg mess.

And for whatever reason, I thought about how this omelette situation parallels life and the lessons that I could take away from this experience. Yes, that’s odd. Anyway, here are the lessons I learned.

1) Figure out what you did wrong and fix it

There’s rarely a time when I mess up my omelette two days in a row. After messing up, I’ll make sure that the same mistake doesn’t happen again. Omelette got stuck to the pan? I’ll make sure to add more oil. Not enough height on the flip yesterday? I’m tossing that sucker up to the ceiling today.

This is the same as in the real world. I’ve messed up at work before, but I’ve always apologized, taken the heat, and made sure not to make the same mistake again. I’ve made relationship mistakes, rectified them, and avoided them in the future.

It’s OK to make mistakes every now and then, as long as you learn from them and get better.

2) Even when things seems bad, life goes on and you’re still alive

You messed up your omelette and now you have scrambled eggs. So what? You still have eggs. You’re still eating. You ain’t starvin.

Bad things happen sometimes. Maybe you burned a bridge, lost a client, screwed up a project, failed a test, or got dumped by your girlfriend or boyfriend. Yeah, it sucks, but you’re still alive. You still have a job. There are other fish in the sea. You still have a roof over your head, family and friends. There’s always someone who is struggling more than you are, so make sure you appreciate what you have everyday.

Keep the above two lessons in mind. My breakfast would appreciate it.

Omelettes were harmed in the writing of this blog post.

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

Image courtesy of Quickmeme.com

Looking back to 2013 and forward to 2014

Happy New Year! Though I believe we should continuously think about where we are and where we’re going, the new year is always a good time to summarize it all. So here goes!

Recap of 2013

Mike Vicky Vows

This past year was really eventful on a personal level. I attended seven (!) weddings in 2013: two were mine (the Best Wedding Ever in Mexico and an awesome family reception in Queens), my sister got married in September in NYC, and four other friends got married in New Jersey, California, and Florida. Combine those weddings with traveling to New York and New Jersey for Thanksgiving and Christmas, it’s pretty clear that Vicky and I have been a couple of weary road warriors. But it was a year full of great celebrations.

Cute

One of the tougher parts of the year was when our dog, Sweet Dee, was paralyzed in her hind legs by a compressed spine. We had to cut our vacation short to take her to the neurologist, get an MRI, and have her undergo surgery. The aftermath was really difficult, as we had to frequently express her bladder (she didn’t have much control of anything in the back half of her body) and retrain her on how to walk. Regardless, she’s a tough cookie and made a full recovery! She probably has no idea that she was even paralyzed. Silly dog.

Regarding my 2013 New Year’s resolutions, I pretty much shat the bed. While I accomplished not drinking for two weeks, I failed to run at least two Tough Mudders (I only ran one) and didn’t make much progress on launching a startup. While 1 out of 3 makes for a good batting average in baseball, it really sucks for New Year’s resolutions. On the career note, some positives included taking a more active role in Startup Weekend DC (I became an official co-organizer), and blogging for the CEA, which has been fun and has increased my visibility.

Onward to 2014

While 2013 was an amazing year, I’m really looking forward to 2014. There will definitely be fewer weddings, so I’ll travel a bit less this year. This should keep me fresher to accomplish my resolutions, which are:

1) Seriously get my startup going

While I didn’t make much progress launching a startup in 2013, my co-founder and I did narrow our list down to three ideas to potentially pursue. Over the next couple of weeks, we’re going to run some experiments to figure out which may be the most viable idea and work towards it. I’m excited!

I stress out everyday about the lack of movement on my startup, but making a little bit of progress everyday will help, and that’s what I intend to do.

2) Drop five pounds

I’m blessed with the high metabolism that many Asians have, so I haven’t had to worry too much about my weight. I work out a good amount but I think being more disciplined with my diet, which I’m pretty horrible at, will help me stay healthier and keep my energy up. Dropping five pounds will be the result of this discipline.

3) Avoid alcohol for two weeks every quarter

While it was tough (for me) to not drink for 14 days straight, I’m going to do it 4 times this year. This should also help me achieve resolution #2.

4) Start a family

Whoa! This is a big one that may have a detrimental impact on all of the above resolutions, but it will be totally worth it. I should let Vicky know about this one. 🙂

If all goes well, 2014 will be an unbelievable year in both my personal and professional lives, and I can’t wait.

How did your 2013 go, and what are your resolutions for 2014? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

If you found this interesting, please connect with me on Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn for future updates.

Guest blog post for CEA: Team First or Idea First – What’s the Best Option for Launching a Startup?

Team First or Idea First?

Check out my latest guest post for the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA): Team First or Idea First – What’s the Best Option for Launching a Startup?

Looking back on the experiences of my short career in entrepreneurship and startups, I’ve been thinking a lot about whether it’s better to start with an idea first then build the team, or work with some potential co-founders first before coming up with a specific idea together.

Both situations have pros and cons, but which is the better path to startup success? Read more about this here.

Enjoy!

Like this post? Then follow me on Twitter at @mikewchan, connect with me on LinkedIn, and add me to your Google+ circles for future updates.

Tough Mudder, No Drinking, and Other Updates on My New Year’s Resolutions

At the beginning of 2013, I wrote a blog post that laid out my New Year’s resolutions, which were:

  1. I’m going to run at least two Tough Mudders, Spartan Races, or other similar races.
  2. At some point this year, I’m going to not have an alcoholic beverage for 14 days.
  3. I’ll achieve more focus in my entrepreneurial endeavors.

A couple of these have been or are being addressed recently, so here’s a quick update on my progress.

Tough Mudder #1 Complete

Mudder 2013 Before and After

Three buddies, my brother-in-law, and I ran the Tough Mudder this past weekend at Raceway Park in Englishtown, NJ, and it was awesome. Everyone made it to the finish line (we thought one of the guys might croak) in disgusting, muddy fashion and earned our t-shirt, headband, and free beer.

I ran a Tough Mudder last September so I knew what to expect this time around; couple that with beautiful weather (it was pouring rain during last year’s race), and this race wasn’t as terrible. It was definitely still a tough mental and physical challenge, and getting electrocuted and jumping into freezing water still really sucks.

I need to fit in one more adventure challenge by the end of the year to fulfill this resolution, and am thinking about doing a GoRuck event. We’ll see!

No Drinking for the Next Two Weeks

Starting yesterday, I’m staying away from alcohol for 14 days.

I know this one seems really easy, but I love having a beer with dinner or just to relax, and I don’t think I’ve ever gone more than a week without having a drink.

After the two weeks is up, I’m going to reward myself with drinks at the Drake concert on October 31 and then my buddy’s bachelor party in Vegas that weekend. I think that’s a fair deal!

More Focus in My Entrepreneurial Endeavors

This one is a bit more subjective and fluid, and I’m probably breaking even right now.

I’ve taken on a co-organizer role with Startup Weekend DC, adding responsibility to my plate.  But I’ve been more focused on a couple of my consulting clients and have made some progress on my next startup (more on that in another post). I think I’ll focus more as we continue with the startup, but for now I think I have a good balance.

At this point, all of my resolutions can still be accomplished. But we’ll see where I stand in a couple of months!

Guest blog post for CEA: Date Before You Get Married – The Lesson Learned From My First Failed Startup

Check out my latest guest post for the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) – Date Before You Get Married—The Lesson Learned From My First Failed Startup.

In a very-early stage startup, a cohesive team is super important. When building the team for Dokkit (my smart calendar app startup), I moved too fast and placed little importance on team fit and alignment. The team quickly broke up and that was the end of Dokkit. Here’s the story.

Enjoy!

Like this post? Then follow me on Twitter at @mikewchan, connect with me on LinkedIn, and add me to your Google+ circles for future updates.

Guest blog post for CEA – How I Came to the Decision to Quit My Job and Become an Entrepreneur

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Hi All!

As I mentioned before, I am guest-blogging for the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) about entrepreneurship and startups.

My first post highlighted my journey to entrepreneurship and how there’s no one path to becoming an entrepreneur.

My most recent post takes you through my decision process of quitting my job with the Washington Capitals and taking the leap to launch a startup.

I hope you enjoy!

Like this post? Then follow me on Twitter at @mikewchan, connect with me on LinkedIn, and add me to your Google+ circles for future updates.

My first guest blog post for CEA – My Path to Entrepreneurship

I’m proud to announce that I’ll be guest-blogging for the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) about entrepreneurship and startups! I’ll write about my ups and downs, lessons learned, and any other experiences as an entrepreneur.

Check out my first post where I talk about my journey to entrepreneurship and how there’s no one path to becoming an entrepreneur. I hope you like this article, and stay tuned for the rest of the series!

I’d like to thank Sean Parker, Jamie Carracher, and Lindsay Bianco at CEA for this opportunity.

Enjoy!

Like this post? Then follow me on Twitter at @mikewchan, connect with me on LinkedIn, and add me to your Google+ circles for future updates.

My First Year of Entrepreneurship – What I Think and What I’ve Learned

entrepreneurship01

Just over a year ago, I left my job at the Washington Capitals to become an entrepreneur. It’s been a valuable learning experience and a great ride, but like any other job, there have been ups and downs. I wrote a post last August about what I learned after one month on my own, and this article augments those thoughts.

While I’ve learned a ton over the past year, I think I’ve broken even in terms of progress. In the corporate world, that’s unacceptable. In the entrepreneurship and startup worlds, depending on the situation, it may be a bit more common. Regardless, it’s kinda depressing.

Consulting

On one hand, the independent consulting work I’ve been doing has been going really well. I currently have three core, long-term clients for which I hope I’m doing a good job and we’re making solid progress toward our goals. I’ve also successfully executed two other short-term projects. Additionally, I have a couple of other potential clients in the pipeline. The best part is that all of these clients and projects have come through referrals, with no formal sales or business development processes. I can’t complain one bit about my consulting work.

Startup Stuff

But consulting is not why I became an entrepreneur. I want to build a technology startup, and on that front, I haven’t done much at all.

I wrote about what happened with my first startup, Dokkit. Since then, I’ve made only a little progress in my second at-bat. But a big takeaway I learned was that ideally, the startup team should come first, then the idea (for other opinions on this, see here and here). I am working with a couple of developers on a startup, and one of the team members is a consulting client of mine, so we know how each other functions and work really well together. We’ve thrown around a ton of ideas but haven’t been able to agree with one that we all want to execute. This process can be really frustrating, but I think the hardest part, assembling a founding team that you know you can work well with, is out of the way. We’re taking our time with developing the concept and being really diligent about pursuing an idea that we’re all passionate about and has the potential to be a real business. Though it’s moving slowly, I think we’re going about it the right way.

An exciting endeavor I’m involved in is volunteering as an Up Global (formerly Startup Weekend) DC Organizer, where I coordinate events and workshops that help entrepreneurs get their companies off the ground, learn about startup frameworks and resources, and connect with fellow entrepreneurs. I’ve only been doing this for a few months but it has allowed me to give back to the DC entrepreneurship community and meet many smart, talented, and driven entrepreneurs who may build the next great company.

Overall, there’s been a lot of activity but not so much progress. I’m working to change that.

The Struggle

Yeah, I’m going through ups and downs, but I’m not yet going through The Struggle. The Struggle sounds horrendous, but part of me wants to feel that stress and have that kind of responsibility. I am lucky to be in the situation I’m in – I have a really supportive wife, family, and friends and stable consulting work – but those blessings may be hiding the urgency that many startup entrepreneurs face that forces them to move at 100 miles per hour and really get shit done. Don’t get me wrong, I count my blessings everyday, but sometimes wonder about the other ways they impact my work.

One year in, it’s been an amazing ride so far. But I stress out everyday thinking that I’m not moving fast enough, learning enough, or making enough progress. Regardless, I wouldn’t change a thing. And when I write another post like this in a year, hopefully I’ll have a lot more to say about the technology company I’m building.

How Does Confidence Affect You?

confidenceIt affects me a lot, in a few parts of my life. For me, confidence is many times linked to motivation, and they both impact my performance. Here are a couple of examples.

Confidence in Sports

You hear the word “confidence” thrown around a lot when people talk about pro athletes and sports teams. Sportscasters and analysts will say things like, “He’s playing with a lot of confidence” and “They have a lot of momentum and confidence heading into the playoffs.” Confidence is a completely intangible aspect but an important one nonetheless.

I play basketball twice a week but I’m not very good. I’m short, not as quick as I used to be, and can’t jump. But I do have a decent jump shot. And if I make my first couple of shots in a game, my confidence rises and I tend to shoot (and hopefully score) a bit more often.

But when I miss those early shots badly, I sometimes get into my own head and lose confidence in my shooting ability. I become more hesitant to fire and pass up shots that I’d normally take. Then I look like a worse player than I already am, and it just gets worse from there. It’s ugly.

Confidence at Work

Confidence affects me a lot at work, too. In the last ten months that I’ve been an entrepreneur, my confidence has been riding a roller coaster.

When I resigned from the Caps last July, my confidence was really high. I had a good five-year run and I left the Caps/Monumental Sports marketing department in better shape than when I joined. I was leaving to work on my startup, Dokkit, and I was so motivated to change the world. I also secured a couple of consulting contracts that allowed me to take the leap.

Just a few months later, Dokkit was no more, and my confidence tumbled. Dokkit was the primary reason why I left my awesome job at the Caps, and a lot of thoughts ran through my mind – anger, regret, disappointment, self-doubt, and a little bit of fear. I was lost for a while, unmotivated, and felt like I didn’t have much of an identity in the startup world. I did have some wins, as I completed a consulting engagement and scored another, which gave me a little bump. But in the larger scheme of things, it didn’t help much, as I wasn’t trying to build a consulting firm; I was trying to create a startup.

Forming a partnership with Thorn Technologies in December has been a real positive for me. Not only do I get to use my marketing skills to help Jeff grow his software development business, but we’re working together on a startup as well. I have clear deliverables and timelines (my confidence increases when I execute discrete tasks well), and I have a newfound identity in startup land. It’s been a great partnership so far, and one that has definitely helped me increase my confidence and motivation on a daily basis.

Still, everyday there are highs and lows. Some days are tougher than others, but that’s all part of the struggle.

Getting Out of the Rut

Things are easy when your confidence is peaking. It just feels like you’re smarter, things move more quickly, and you worry less about the little things.

But what about when you’re in the valley? Everything seems to move too slowly, every task is a bit more difficult, and you tend to stress more about insignificant things. Motivation drops, which then lowers your confidence even more. It’s a vicious cycle. How do you get out of that rut?

I try to add value in other ways. In my basketball situation, I’ll pass the ball a bit more and play better defense. When an easy shot opens up, I’ll try to take advantage of that to build my shooting confidence. At work, I’ll delve into a task that doesn’t take too much brainpower. Maybe I’ll take care of administrative work or write a personal blog post to get some things off my chest (like I’m doing now). Sometimes even those tasks are difficult but it helps me make a little bit of progress when I’m not at my best.

Does confidence impact you as much as it impacts me? If so, how do you take advantage of the peaks and deal with the valleys?

Breadth vs. Depth – What’s Better For Your Career?

I’ve thought a lot and have had many discussions about this throughout my career. Should I be a generalist and build a broad base of skills and knowledge so I can be flexible and work different jobs in many industries, or should I go deep into one specific skill and/or industry and become a specialist? What’s best for long-term success? Forbes and the Harvard Business Review thinks generalists will rule the future; I tend to agree but I don’t think it’s that cut and dry.

There are some careers where it’s necessary to be a specialist, otherwise you likely wouldn’t have a career. College professors and scientific researchers come to mind; you need to be an absolute expert on a particular subject to be successful.

On the other hand, industries like consulting, which is where I started my career, breeds generalists. Consultants, especially in the early stages of their careers, work on a wide array of projects across many industries. As they become more experienced, some may focus on a particular function (such as strategy, marketing, or operations) or a specific industry (e.g. healthcare, technology, consumer packaged goods), or a function/industry combination. But overall, consultants are armed with a broad array of skills and knowledge that many take with them to executive positions at other non-consulting organizations.

So, like with many questions, the answer is, “it depends” – on your goals and your personality.

If you want to start or lead a company, having breadth is a must because you have to understand all aspects of your business, including sales and marketing, product development and management, engineering, finance and accounting, human resources, and more. Sure, you can outsource or hire specialists to handle many of these functions, but you must have at least a cursory level of knowledge of all of these to effectively run a company.

You can also do really well by being a specialist. You can focus on a particular sector of finance (e.g. fixed-income investing), marketing (e.g. email marketing), engineering (e.g. Java programming) or any other function, and be the go-to guy or gal in that specific field within your organization. Additionally, you will presumably really like what you do, since you’ve found enough affinity for it to specialize.

I’m in the generalist camp. Like I mentioned earlier, I started in consulting and enjoyed jumping from client to client and working on different types of projects. As a marketer for the Washington Caps, I liked touching many different aspects of the business, such as CRM, database marketing, advertising, mobile, social, and analytics.

And in my current career of launching a tech startup, I believe being a generalist will serve me well. The various marketing and strategy roles I’ve played will help me acquire and retain customers and map out the future for my company. And I’ve broadened my skills even further by learning programming so I can work more closely with software developers and add value to them when I can.

So for me, the preference for being a generalist boils down to a couple of reasons: 1) I want to start and lead a company, so the generalist business skills are necessary, and 2) I would probably get bored if I focused on only one specific function. And while I think a broad array of skills is powerful, augmenting that with some deep knowledge of a particular industry makes for the best recipe for professional success.

What do you think? In your field, are you a generalist, specialist, or a mix of both? What pros and cons have you seen being so?