Inside My Brain

Thoughts about startups, tech, marketing, and life

Recap of Tough Mudder

On Saturday, I ran the Tough Mudder race in Frederick, MD. It was awesome. Below is a recap and some lessons I took away from the race:

Tough Mudder is Extreeeeeeeeeme

The race entailed 12 miles of running and 20 obstacles involving mud, mud, and more mud, water, electricity, climbing, jumping, lifting, pushing, pulling and more. And on top of that, we did it all in a torrential downpour, basically running the entire race sloshing in mud and more mud! Crazy.

I’ve done a Mud Run in the past and that’s nothing compared to the Tough Mudder. This is a true test of both mental and physical strength and endurance. My entire body is killing me, I have cuts and scrapes all over my arms, legs, and torso and I even have bruises underneath my fingernails. It hurts to type this blog post, seriously.

Teamwork, Camaraderie and Perseverance are Essential

You can’t run this race alone. I ran it with two of my buddies and we pushed each other throughout the race. But it also felt like every Mudder was my teammate, as everyone helped each other scale the Berlin Walls, climb over the mounds in Mud Mile,  and complete many other obstacles. And even though it felt great for me to get past each of the obstacles, it actually felt better helping others complete them.

Everest was a killer obstacle where you had to run up a 15-foot-high quarter pipe coated in mud and grease, then leap and grab the hands of other Mudders, who help pull you over the top. One of my teammates had a lot of trouble with this one, primarily because “tall” isn’t a word you would use to describe him. In front of a gallery of hundreds of people, he tried to climb Everest about five times, each time sliding down in shame and embarrassment (I imagine he felt that way). On his final try, he was able to get a solid leap and we were able to grab his hands and pull him up. He never gave up and we worked together as a team to get him through it. It seems cliche but that’s what Tough Mudder is all about.

Poor Organization Made This Event Even Crazier

I don’t know whose fault it was, but the traffic going in and out of the event site was insane. 10,000 people converging on the country roads of Frederick, MD made for one hell of a traffic jam. It was so bad that we parked our car about two miles away from the event site and had to walk those miles before and after the race!

Overall, the Tough Mudder was amazing and I’d totally do it again. I have a sweet t-shirt and bright orange headband to prove that I finished. We’re going to try other similar races, like The Spartan Race, to compare. I’d love to hear from other people who completed the Tough Mudder or any other races about what they think.

What I’ve Learned After One Month On My Own

It’s been exactly one month since I left my gig at the Caps and I’ve learned a few things working for myself at home.

The more flexible and unpredictable your schedule is, the more important discipline and routines are 

Now that I’m on my own, I have complete control over my schedule. I can plan meetings when I want, I don’t have to start work at any specific time, nor do I have to commute to an external location everyday. But I’ve found that the unpredictability of this schedule can cause dips in productivity. Who’s to stop me from waking up at 10am everyday and only working until 3pm? I’m the boss, so I can do what I want, right? Sure, but I’d get absolutely nothing done.

So I stay disciplined and replicate my morning routine that I had while working for the Caps. I wake up at 7am, walk the dog, make breakfast, shower, then immediately start cranking out work. When Noon rolls around, I’ll either make lunch and eat, or fit in a mid-day workout. If there are days when I have meetings or I need to run errands during normal work hours, I’ll work into the night to complete my 10-12 hour workday. Staying disciplined and following a routine has been really helpful in staying productive working from home.

Power naps really help productivity, too

You’re probably thinking “WTF?!” after having just read the first section about discipline. But it’s true – power naps are awesome for productivity. Everyone’s been through the 2:30 in the afternoon lull at work and power napping helps me get through it. There have been articles in Inc., Businessweek, and other publications about how companies embrace nap time during the work day and studies show how this positively impacts productivity.

But again, I have to be really disciplined about this, or my 20-minute nap can turn into a 3-hour one (like it sometimes does on the weekend). I nap sitting semi-upright on my couch so I’m not that comfortable.  I set the alarm on my phone to ring after 20-30 minutes and place my phone across the room so I have to physically stand up to turn it off. After I wake up, I splash my face with water and immediately get back to work, feeling refreshed.

The highs are higher and the lows are much lower

The extremes are more amplified working for yourself.

In my past consulting gigs with Tefen and Navigant Consulting, closing a new project deal or completing an engagement was a big deal. At the Caps, a successful marketing campaign, the launch of a new mobile app, or a big win over the Penguins was cause for celebration. I’m not taking anything away from these events, as they definitely elicited happiness and excitement. But when you’re on your own, the littlest wins, like an insightful product test, a completed analysis for one of my consulting clients, or a meeting that went well, seem huge. I can’t even imagine how I’ll feel when something bigger like a product launch happens. My head will probably explode.

On the flip side, the lows feel really, really low. Projects that move slower than I expect drag me down more. Reading about how the stock prices of Facebook, Groupon, and Zynga are dropping like a bag of bricks doesn’t give me much confidence as I build a consumer web app. The doubt that creeps in can be paralyzing.

But that’s the game I’m playing and I need to deal with this roller coaster.

That’s all I have for now. I’d love to hear from other entrepreneurs about their everyday experiences, or from anyone who works from home.

The Importance of Disconnecting From Work

I wrote a blog post a few weeks ago about how sometimes I wish life were simpler and we could more easily disconnect from our gadgets. Lately, there’s been a lot of content out there about how to better disconnect from work, which is something that I and many people have a problem doing.

When I was working at the Caps, I almost never disconnected from work when we were in-season from September to May (too bad not June). That’s nine months non-stop of constantly reading and writing email, strategizing, executing, managing, firefighting, and stressing. I’d take a few days off in February or March each year to go snowboarding out west, but I’d bring my laptop and catch up on some work during downtime and really never stopped thinking about it. I otherwise rarely took vacation in-season. This is a recipe for burning out, which I admittedly did towards the end of every season.

Now that I’m on my own working on Dokkit and consulting, it’s gotten even worse. And I’ve been doing this for only two weeks!

That’s why I love these articles and posts about how small business owners and startup CEOs are approaching vacations and completely disconnecting from work, whether it’s for themselves or their employees.

This NY Times article shows how you can prepare yourself and your company for when you take a real, disconnected vacation.

This post from a startup called Full Contact talks about their Paid Paid Vacation policy – not only do they pay your salary when you are on vacation, they actually pay for your vacation, too! Awesome!

This Inc post talks about how Red Frog gives their employees unlimited vacation time and how that really helps them be more productive.

It’s tough but I think we can gain a lot from being truly disconnected from work every now and then. What do you think?

Don’t Be Afraid to Take That Big Step

Fortune Big StepFortune SaltThat’s what the piece of paper from a fortune cookie told me. It also told me how to say”salt” in Mandarin.

I held on to that fortune and now I’m following its wisdom (not the learning Chinese part).

Today was my last day at the Washington Capitals / Monumental Sports and Entertainment and I’m leaving to work on my tech startup, Dokkit. Check it out, sign up, and let me know what you think!

My time with the Caps and Monumental was amazing. I worked with so many smart people and learned so many things that will no doubt help me in the future. I’m really appreciative of the opportunities and responsibility that I was given here. And I got to watch hockey games for a living! As awesome as this job was, it was time to take a shot at this entrepreneurship thing.

I’m in for the ride of my life. I have no idea what I’m doing. I’ll have no income for a while. I’ll never work harder, face more uncertainty, and ride more of an emotional roller coaster than I will now. Fellow entrepreneur Daniel Odio told me that working on a startup is like “getting punched in the face all day, then waking up the next day to do it all over again.” Awesome, can’t wait. I’m nervous, excited, stressed, and scared. Really scared. But I’m doing it anyway. I might fail or I might succeed, who knows. But I have to take a shot.

Go big or go home. Shit or get off the pot. No regrets. Or any other motivating tagline you want to use. So if you’re thinking of making a move, I say, “Just Do It.”

But it all begins by taking that big step.

What if life were simpler, like on TV shows?

Don Draper Drinking

Dedicated to the winners and the losers, Can it be that it was all so simple then?
Dedicated to all Jeeps and Land Cruisers, Can it be that it was all so simple then?
-Wu-Tang Clan, “Can It Be All So Simple”

Some of the best shows that are or were on TV take place in another era. Shows like Game of Thrones, Deadwood, Downton Abbey, and Mad Men portray how times were back in the day in different parts of the (sometimes made-up) world. When I watch these shows and think about how life was so simple, I sometimes ponder whether I would have rather lived in those eras as opposed to now.

Technology has no doubt made us more connected, efficient, and productive. But it has, to some extent, shortened our attention spans, trivialized relationships, and overwhelmed us with content. So, would I trade today’s complex, gadget-based life for a simpler, less cluttered life back then? Let’s compare.

  • Game of Thrones – Days filled with practicing sword fighting or archery, drinking arbor wine and eating salted beef and pigeon pie seem pretty cool, but I’ll pass on riding horses all day, ugly clothes, and not bathing.
  • Deadwood – Pan for gold, sell some tools, drink whiskey, visit a whorehouse and form a government – not a terrible life. But the bumpy dirt roads, uncomfortable boots (I have flat hooves and those boots would hurt) and risk that someone can just come up and shank or shoot me outweighs all the good simple things.
  • Downton Abbey – Life’s pretty good if you’re a Crawley, but even getting waited on all day might get annoying, and so might those accents.
  • Mad Men – Sipping whiskey or vodka at 11am while thinking of clever taglines, followed by a liquid lunch with a client, followed by a nap on the couch in your office, followed by a liquid dinner, all while styling in a sweet suit? Awesome! Transistor radios and black and white TVs don’t compare to iPods and HDTVs but I think we might have something here.

All non-funny jokes aside, I wouldn’t trade today’s life for any of those in the above TV shows. But there are times when I’m overwhelmed with emails, tweets, newsletters, meeting requests, etc. and I just want to sit back, take a swig of vodka and score a nap.

What do you do when you get overwhelmed with a ton of communications and content? How do you disconnect from the clutter that technology brings? Would you trade today’s life for the simple life in one of those shows?

Birthday Thoughts – This One Feels Different

Today is my 34th birthday and though 34 isn’t a “significant” number like 21, 30, or 40, this one feels important and really different to me.

Maybe I’m just a little more mature, though my actions going out in DC later tonight might prove different.

Maybe I’m just getting old, like my ankles, wrists, and back are telling me.

Maybe it’s because I’m now engaged to be married to my beautiful fiancee (never did that before!).

Maybe it’s because I read this blog post by Brad Feld this morning. Which made me think about all of the life changes that are coming soon (more about this at a later date).

Regardless, this one feels different. Good, but different.

Eh, I’m probably just getting old.

Do you work to live or live to work?

Think about it. Which one describes you?

You “work to live” if your job is a means to provide for the other parts of your life, such as having an awesome social life, acquiring desired possessions, traveling, caring for your family, etc.

These people typically have very stable, well-paying, 9-to-5 jobs.  I have friends with children who work primarily to care for their families, and others who work to go out to eat and drink five nights a week. I’d say a lot of accountants work to live (my accountant friends – I’ve heard your complaints, don’t fight me on this) as do others in very traditional industries such as CPG and manufacturing. You can definitely like your job but it isn’t what drives you in life.

You “live to work” if you are super-motivated at your job, proactively look for problems to solve, and are willing to sacrifice, whether it’s money, stability, a social life, whatever, to pursue a career that you truly love.

I’d say that most entrepreneurs embody the “live to work” principle, typically sacrificing job stability and a social life to build something they are passionate about.  Many who work in the sports and entertainment industries live to work as well, typically forgoing a larger salary in other more lucrative industries to work with more exciting subject matter.  Writers and journalists may also fall into this bucket. I’m sure I’m leaving many other jobs and industries out, so please comment to include yours.

One camp isn’t better than the other, and there are definitely pros, cons, and sacrifices made by people in both segments; it all depends on life’s priorities.

So do you work to live or live to work?

What’s your version of winning the Super Bowl?

Eli Manning SB trophyI’m a big NY Giants fan, so I was totally pumped when they won the Super Bowl this past Sunday. But as I watched the Super Bowl parade yesterday and saw all the players’ and fans’ happiness, I thought to myself – What’s the normal person’s equivalent of winning the Super Bowl?

We’re all professionals at something, just not a professional athlete at the highest level and the biggest stage.  I think of the times that I’ve felt really good after accomplishing something, and I bet it pales in comparison to what Eli Manning or Tom Coughlin felt. What’s the career equivalent for people like you and me? Is it landing a big sale, getting that promotion or completing that big project successfully? I’m not sure it compares to lifting the Lombardi trophy over your head. Or if you’re an entrepreneur, maybe it’s selling your company or filing that IPO?   I should ask Mark Zuckerberg soon.

Maybe it’s something personal, like getting married or having a child? I don’t know, I haven’t done either of those. Or maybe buying that shiny new luxury car or big house, which signifies that you made it? Who knows.

So what is it? Have you ever felt such a sense of accomplishment that you felt that you won the Super Bowl of your world, and if so, what happened? Let me know!

Fear and Paranoia in the Workplace – Good and Bad

Paranoia imageThe other day I was instant messaging with one of my childhood friends and we landed on the topic of jobs. He’s good at what he does and has worked up to be a Director of Marketing at a major media company, yet he stated that that he was “completely paranoid that he wouldn’t be employable in 10 years” and that’s why he works harder than anyone at his company to ensure that this doesn’t happen.

I actually think this is a great frame of mind, if not taken too far. A little bit of self-inflicted fear and paranoia is a great motivator, and looking both over your shoulder and forward allows you to stay ahead of the pack. A bit of “I’m not/won’t be good enough” can motivate one to work harder and smarter to improve areas where he’s lacking.

But what I don’t condone is the use of fear and paranoia by managers and executives with their subordinates. It creates an unenjoyable workplace where employees become afraid to mess up with fear that they’ll suffer harsh consequences. I came across this article about how Scott Pioli, GM of the Kansas City Chiefs, created a culture of fear, paranoia, and secrecy to the point where Chiefs employees were worried about their phones being tapped. Check it out, it’s an interesting read.

I’m all for accountability, attention to detail, and integrity, but I think there are better ways to foster that culture. You can still be very results-oriented without scaring it into your employees. If you choose to use fear, chances are you won’t get the results you want. Just look at the Chiefs.

It’s All Relative, I Guess

Einstein’s Theory of Relativity is one of the most important concepts in the history of man. Though it spawned from physics, relativity can be applied to any situation where there is some kind of comparison. But it’s taken to a whole new level on this forum about household income (HHI) that I came across on UrbanBaby.com.

As you can see, someone posted on this site a forum topic that asked – “What’s your HHI and do you FEEL poor, middle class, upper middle class or rich where you live? No judging.”

The responses here range from honest to fake and hilarious to sad. Here is what I’ve learned from this:

  1. Rich, Upper Middle Class, Middle Class, and Poor seem to be relative terms that are functions of where you live, the lifestyle to which you’re accustomed, and with whom you associate and not just absolutely based on income alone.
  2. People in NYC are either totally delusional, completely disconnected from the real world, or just have no idea how to balance their checkbooks.  There’s no doubt that the cost of living in NYC is astronomical but if a family makes “about $3m this year…been $1-6 the last 10 years” and “feels very middle class,” or a household makes “$300K per year and feels so, so, so poor,” then there is something so, so, so wrong on some level. By the way, I ignored the “no judging” request here.

What are your thoughts? Do you find yourself thinking about things (social status or anything else) in relative or absolute terms? My NYC friends – is it really THAT bad living in the city with your paycheck or are NYC residents’ views totally skewed? Let me know!