Inside My Brain

Thoughts about startups, tech, marketing, and life

CATEGORY: Life

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.

Doing things you don’t have to do

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Use the hate as fuel to get better

fire-orange-emergency-burning

Last Friday I posted a blog post titled “The life of a startup founder – when little things are big deals” on LinkedIn. 

The very first comment on that post was written by one of my connections who interviewed me for his podcast a while ago. This is what he wrote:

Mr. Chan – Given my 20+ years of experience working with the poorest of the poor and families on the Forbes 50 you are so self absorbed that you think every small detail is the end of the world. I experienced this directly with you in trying to work together. I learned just because I am loyal doesn’t mean everyone will be. Stop only thinking of Mr. Chan. However, my business experience did teach me one thing never put all your eggs in one basket. My money is on your competition !

The situation that led to this comment was a misunderstanding that happened a long time ago. I thought we came to an agreement and squashed it, but I guess not.

While I don’t agree with his comment (obviously) nor do I agree with him using a social network to air his grievances before speaking with me in private, he’s entitled to his opinion about me.

I’m not writing this blog post to disparage him. I have nothing against him. We had a really great interview and hope his podcast is doing well.

But I’ve been thinking a lot about that comment and it’s been motivating me ever since it was written.

You’re going to have some haters out there, whether you deserve to or not.

Maybe your personality doesn’t jive with others.

Maybe your work style is different than others.

Maybe you have to break some eggs to make an omelet, and it’s others’ eggs you have to break.

And when that hate comes at you, you can either crawl into a hole and feel sorry for yourself, or you can use it as fuel to get better and prove them wrong.

I don’t like it when someone comes at me like that. It doesn’t feel good. I’m an overall nice guy and I think most people like me, and I’d like it to stay that way. I know I didn’t do anything wrong in that situation, so I’m not going to let it bother me.

Rather, I’m going to use that animosity to motivate me to work harder, build faster, and get better.

If he wants to put his money on my competition, I’m going to work hard to make sure that he loses that bet.

So don’t let the haters get to you. Use their hate as fuel for your fire.