Inside My Brain

Thoughts about startups, tech, marketing, and life

CATEGORY: Life

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.

More on Reps and Sets and doing little things everyday

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Reps and Sets – how repetition and making little improvements everyday can make a big impact in the long run.

Recently, I was watching The Herd, a sports talk show with Colin Cowherd. I forget what the context of the sports conversation was, but Colin was making an analogy of eating a single cookie everyday.

Eating a 200-calorie cookie doesn’t seem too bad. But it’s an easy thing to do and keep doing.

If you eat a 200-calorie cookie everyday, over the course of a month, you will have consumed about 6000 calories, which equates to almost 2 pounds.

In one year, you will have gained over 20 pounds! Just by eating a single cookie each day!

With weight loss, it’s not about doing some ridiculous diet for two weeks. Yeah, you may shed a few pounds, but those diets are largely unsustainable, and you’re likely to gain back that lost weight after the diet is over. It’s about being consistent and cutting out small things like cookies and soda from your everyday diet and generally eating healthy each day.

Just like improving your skills in anything. It’s about consistent, everyday practice.

Reps and sets.

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.

mathhub multiplier

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.

Lessons learned from Isaiah Thomas’ letter to Boston after being traded

Bradley Beal, Isaiah Thomas

Even if you’re not an NBA or sports fan, I think this story is something you’ll appreciate.

Isaiah Thomas is the former point guard for the Boston Celtics and was recently traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers. He recently penned a heartfelt letter on The Players’ Tribune telling how it all went down, how devastated he was, and how much his time in Boston meant to him. It’s an amazing read, so take 5 minutes and read it now – I’ll still be here when you get back.

Isaiah was the last player drafted – the 60th player overall – in 2011. Players drafted in this position rarely last in the NBA, and if they do, they’re typically relegated to the bench and traded many times.

Isaiah is 5’9″, tiny by NBA standards.

After stints in Sacramento and Phoenix, Isaiah was traded to Boston, where he became an All-Star and MVP candidate and led the team to the first seed in the Eastern Conference last season.

His sister Chyna tragically died in a car crash during last season’s playoffs. He flew to the West Coast to attend her funeral, then flew back to Boston to play the next night. And he scored 33 points and logged 9 assists.

Isaiah played months through a nagging hip injury that forced him out of the playoffs. He left his heart and soul on the court every day.

Yet he still got traded.

The guy he was traded for is Kyrie Irving, who is essentially basketball royalty.

He was drafted #1 overall that same year Isaiah was drafted. He played his college ball at Duke. Playing along side LeBron James, he’s been to the NBA Finals three years in a row and won the championship two seasons ago. Yet he wasn’t happy and demanded a trade.

While supremely talented, he’s been criticized as sometimes being lazy, playing bad defense, or being a ball hog.

Sounds like quite the opposite of Isaiah, no?

There are a few lessons that I took away from this situation and reading the article.

It doesn’t matter what deficiencies you have or what others think of you. If you work hard and keep learning and grinding, you can succeed no matter what hurdles are in your way. 

All odds were against Isaiah lasting in the NBA. Yet he continued to work hard and improve his craft, so much that he became one of the top players in the league.

Things can change at a moment’s notice. 

For better or worse.

Take nothing for granted. You can do everything right but bad things can still happen. Stay humble and just keep working.

Be appreciative.

I’m sure Isaiah was angry, and he could have lashed out against the organization and city that he’s leaving. But he expressed his appreciation and love. That’s class.

Ambition is a powerful thing.

It seems as though Kyrie Irving’s situation was amazing. He’s won an NBA championship and has perennially made the NBA finals. Yet he still wasn’t satisfied with this.

I’ve written about the difference between happiness vs. satisfaction a couple times in the past – see here and here. Kyrie’s ambition to “be the man” and play second fiddle to Lebron James led him to request a trade. Was he appreciative of this situation in Cleveland? Maybe. But was he satisfied? Nope.

On the other hand, Isaiah’s ambition to be a great player, despite his deficiencies, got him to where he is today.

Isaiah’s blog post is one of the most personal, heartfelt articles I’ve read in a long time. The guy has worked so hard and laid it on the line every night, yet he still got done wrong. Life’s a cruel thing sometimes.

All you can do is appreciate what you have and keep moving on.

Photo courtesy of Keith Allison on Flickr

Think for yourself

Venture capitalist Leo Polovets tweeted the above statement out a couple of weeks ago, and I couldn’t agree more.

I know many people who are contrarian for the sake of being contrarian.

It’s good to be different, but only if it makes sense to be. It can be easy to be contrarian – just say the opposite of what others are saying. But you don’t want to be that kind of contrarian.

I also know many people who don’t have a unique or independent thought at all. They go through the ropes, agree with everyone, do what is expected of them, and nothing more.

I think that’s worse.

Independent thinking is the result of true analysis and understanding.

If you think independently, sometimes you’ll be contrarian, other times you won’t. Sometimes you’ll be right, other times you won’t.

What you’ll have is a say, an opinion, an input. And if that input is well researched and backed up, you’ll get respect for your thoughts, regardless of whether you’re right, wrong, contrarian, or conformist.

Think independently about that, and let me know what you think!

Putting your life and career into perspective

Last weekend I returned from an amazing two-week family vacation in Thailand.

This vacation allowed me to take time away from work (I didn’t even bring my laptop!), reflect on what’s going on in my life, and enjoy time with family.

We spent a few days in Ko Samui, where my cousin got married in a beautiful ceremony. A bunch of our family stayed in a beach villa and had a great time.

We then trekked up north to Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai to hang out with elephants, tigers, nature, and lots and lots of Thai food. Check out my “Le Tigre” below. 🙂

Zoolander would be proud

 

While on the trip, Steve Blank wrote a great blog post titled “Working Outside the Tech Bubble.”  The gist of the article is that because he works in tech, he sometimes forgets that most of the world lives outside of the Silicon Valley bubble. He has a summer home in New England, and most of his neighbors don’t know or don’t care about who the ex-CEO of Uber is or what venture capitalist funded which hot startup.

Reading this made me think about perspective.

Like I mentioned in my last blog post, I’ve been feeling guilty about not doing enough in both work and my personal life. I often look at others’ success and doubt myself and my decisions.

But when you put things into perspective, no matter how tough things get, it’s never that bad.

I’m not saying to look down on others’ hardships. It’s more about appreciating what you have and all of the options in front of you.

While in Thailand, we were amazed at how cheap things are. Uber rides were all less than $3, most meals were cheaper than $5 per person, and hour-long massages cost around $8.

Yet all of those low prices may be normal or expensive for the Thai citizens. And those citizens are working really hard to make those wages that are super cheap to us.

Many Thai people live in villages, without the comforts of running water and electricity that we are accustomed to.

There’s no doubt that people in the US still face hardships everyday. Crime, racism, and poverty are still rampant in society.

But by simply being born or living in the US, we’re luckier than 95% of people in the entire world.

We don’t have to face the threat of a suicide bomber day in and day out. Most of us have a roof over our heads with running water and electricity.

So whenever things get tough, I like to put things into perspective and appreciate how lucky I really am.

Sure, my career isn’t going exactly how I’d like it to go. Things aren’t perfect.

But it’s always helpful to take a step back and look at what I have – an amazing family, a beautiful home, good health, and lots of opportunity – rather than what I don’t have.

It’s good to put things into perspective once in a while.

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.