I used to love traveling a lot but it’s become draining. Taking a week break—still will be traveling but need some time to settle…
Last week, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone introduced a new app called Jelly. It trended on Twitter (naturally) and its early adopters were trying to make the best use of it, like catching Mark Zuckerberg texting and driving. While Biddle (author of the linked article) doesn’t find the value in the app, I think this is a step forward into what social media can be.
It seems like the raw concept of MVP has taken the backseat in recent years (understandably so, considering the heavy volume of noise and competition that’s out there) but Jelly is really the MVP of creating discussion with images. Understanding human interaction around a concept like this can lead to more accurate sharing of information when it comes to breaking news. I do believe that Jelly is the next step in figuring out (or at least testing the theory of) social journalism/crowdsourced investigations. Can regular, everyday people help in resolving crucial investigations? What if Jelly existed during the Boston Marathon back last April?
The team behind this will be analytical. How people use Jelly will be crucial to improving the product in future iterations and once Jelly can be used across platforms like reddit and Twitter, rapid communication over the Internet will progress for the better.
The First Date
The first time you meet with a potential partner can often be a nerve-wracking moment. On one side of the coin, you are elated at the thought of the possibilities a partnership could bring. On the other side, you don’t know their intentions, you can make the wrong impression, anything can go wrong.
At this point, it becomes increasingly important to feel out the room. There were many times where Alex and I planned on using a deck and instead demoed a product. There were times where we both brought computers, set up the TV but never opened our laptops and chose to converse. This has nothing to do with a formula and everything to do with reading, which takes practice. There are a few pointers I’ve learned in deciding this and there are three for this post, brought to you by the letter P.
This requires some prejudice. How are the people? First, if they want a deck, show them the deck. It’s that simple. But also, if they’ve got suits on, they may expect a deck. (Don’t base how you decide to lead the meeting on one factor.) If they mention they’ve been in meetings all day, chances are they are fatigued in seeing visual aids. If they get excited about one thing you are explaining, demo it. The type of people you figure them out to be may play the biggest role in how you lead the meeting. If they want to just talk, let them talk. The more information you can gain from them, the better in trying to relate with them. Keep the computer closed.
Place is a little bit obvious. Are there TVs? Projectors? Airplay? Quickly calculate setup time. Will it detract from the effectiveness of your meeting? Is there an opportunity for you to setup before the meeting? Are you comfortable enough with your surroundings that you can setup while talking? How are people seated? Is it a massive table or are people situated somewhat intimately? Swivel your computer around and walk them through a demo or deck. If not, remain cool and chat with them. Gauge where they are in terms of interest. You can always move around but keeping them engaged is key here.
Is your product better explained or demoed? Does it require visual aid or can you paint a picture with words? Is what you have right now good enough for a demo? Which method will create an understanding of the product and best provide a “holy cow” moment?
Whether you demo, show a deck, or simply converse with the potential partners, you ought to be prepared for all three. Don’t be married to one but be diverse in carrying out a relational dialogue with the potential partners.
Working seven days a week and rarely turning off is both the romantic and horror side of startups. It’s the glorified part of startups and we have to be told by people who love us (mostly our own co-workers) to take a break. To turn off. It’s really hard to do because the vision is bigger than our founders’. We’ve bought into it. We believe in it which is why it’s natural for us to be completely absorbed into our work. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have joined the company in the first place. We believe we are making a change. But there are many dangers of not taking a step back. You get burnt out. You lack creativity. But I think the worst part, the biggest danger, comes from being so obsessed with a vision that the vision becomes a false reality.
You look at your product differently than what it is. You cannot relate. You cannot empathize. You do not see the actual product but an idealized version of it. This goes for both the technical and business sides. The reason this is a huge pitfall is because, honestly, it doesn’t matter what you think about your own product. It matters how it looks to the consumer, to your demographic. What the consumer perceives something to be is what your product amounts to; not what you’re aiming for or what you claim it to be. You can sell ice to an eskimo but you won’t be able to scale that for too long. People aren’t that stupid. Your snakeoil is exposed and you become a fraud—not by your own doing but because you’ve been hypnotized with the idea of your product over what you are really presenting.
There are a lot of things that we can learn from kids and much time has been spent on this. We should explore like children. We should play like children. We should be as carefree as children. We love saying cute things about kids but one thing we forget is that kids can be ruthless. They take what they want without any concern for others. You don’t have to teach a kid to be greedy, to hit another kid, or to take something that’s not hers. No, you have to teach a kid to share, to keep her hands to herself, or ask for permission before taking something. As the comedian Louis CK puts it, “Kids are self-absorbed.”
One thing that I made sure before landing an internship at Dwolla and then subsequently landing the gig full time was that I made sure I was hungry and I’m going to get things done for the sake of wanting it. Sure, you need to put yourself in a position of opportunity. You need to be smart about your actions. But all this talk of hustle in the startup world is really just about being hungry. Things don’t land on your lap. You get up and take it.
Bypass all the sensational, feel-goodery talk, and what’s left is raw, laser-focused, animalistic hunger. This hunger isn’t quenched by money, glorification from others, a fulfillment of some kind of insecurity, but actually closing deals and working with companies—as if these deals directly impact you. Not the trajectory of your career. Not the salvation of your company. Not your personal growth or your social skills or anything else that comes with executing. But actually closing the deals somehow directly impacts you as a whole.
Just like kids. When they take a toy from another kid, they aren’t concerned about money, or the fulfillment of some kind of external value; taking what they want scratches an itch intrinsically.
In all honesty, hunting is difficult and it gets tiring. And it’s easy to get caught up in visual benefits that manifest when you go above and beyond to do your job. Without taking your job somewhat personally, you allow your belly to be filled with all these external matters that really have sparing nutritional value. Every now and then you need to allow it to scratch something internal, something unseen. Let that become personal.
If there were anything I was intrigued by in 2013, it would be perception. I know it’s such a broad term, but it’s a good word to summarize what I’ve learned and what I’ve tried to learn more of without actually thinking about it.
Perception is a funny thing and something I don’t think I’ll ever become disinterested in; scholars and philosophers have argued for as long as history and everybody has an opinion on perception. My view of a piece of painting is radically different than the next person. I am not classically trained in analyzing art. I am in no way a painter or a visual artist for that matter. We all come from unique walks of life that we consume and process things differently. There are at least a million factors that play a part in the way I will analyze a piece of artwork.
Internally, the way I perceive time is radically different from the way I perceived it twenty years ago. At five years old, a whole year seemed like forever. I remember thinking Christmas and New Years were always so long, whereas the past two weeks seemed to go by in the blink of an eye. The anticipation, marked by a more intentional acknowledgement of advertisements and the “holiday spirit,” seemed to be infinitely longer than the actual events.
Our own thoughts on something as seemingly objective as time itself changes. In elementary school, work was something that had to be done to have fun. Today, those who have matured just a little since then, realize the importance of good work. Work is necessary but it’s not to be done simply for the sake of being done, but there is an importance, a beauty to good work. Outside of work, the younger me found fun in burning ants with his Darkwing Duck magnifying glass and watching Arthur on TV. Today, boredom is a sin; you don’t get to be bored and learning can actually be fun. When we were younger, we wanted to be older. Even at the young age of 25, I long to be younger; I can only imagine this longing growing deeper over the next few years I’m allowed to live (is that wording too dark?—again, perception).
Perception is crazy. For those who blog or write regularly, you can write something that you think is the greatest thing you’ve ever written but when it goes unpublished for some time and you read it over, the work no longer seems to carry voice. It is unintelligent, almost incoherent. It lacks substance and it makes you shudder. You are no longer immersed in your own work and taking a step back changes your perception of the writing and maybe even the topic itself.
What I say to another company isn’t as important as how I say it. I could mean one thing but by wording something slightly differently, the processing of the words can change the intended meaning of my statement. In the worst case, change their perception of my company.
There is a stark difference between those whose minds are not in the present day and those whose minds are. People have a natural affinity toward the phrases “Carpe diem,” “Carpe omnium,” or, in today’s translation, YOLO. Yet none of us do. The term “none” here isn’t as much of a hyperbole as it comes off. There needs to be an actual, intentional effort to stay in the present and it’s a near impossible feat to accomplish. Again, not a hyperbole here. We are worried about bills, marriage, kids, things of tomorrow. That’s the bucket most of us are in if we had to choose. We are worried about whatever detracts us from our values. These worries reveal our values and thus affect our perception on everything else.
At a close second, are those who look back into the past and live in the “good old days.” This is what I compartmentalize as the Al Bundy bucket. For those that aren’t familiar, Al Bundy was a character in the dreadful sitcom Married…With Children played by Ed O’Neill (currently the rich “traditional” father in Modern Family). Al Bundy was a drunk who sat on the couch and watched TV as the world passed him by. All he ever really discussed, aside from his bigotry, was a single high school football game in which he scored four touchdowns, which would have led to a full college football scholarship until he got injured that prevented him from playing the game ever again. There are things in the past we still hold on to and wish we still had them. We want to relive the idea of being as ecstatic as we were even when the actual emotion of joy had faded long ago. When the reality is, “the good old days” never really existed in the first place. They sucked. They don’t exist. They are gone. We fall in love with the idea and the memory of it and not the actual moment. That which we are obsessed with in the past reflect our perception of things today and moving forward.
We are a people of extremes. We swing as though a pendulum would when going from the past to the future but never staying in the middle. Sometimes we sway back and forth so much we aren’t sure whether we lie in a bucket but everything simply becomes a blur. A lot of us are uncertain about where we want to be and run from both of them, having our decisions motivated by thoughtlessness; some decisions come from the past and others in the future, which leads me to finding that delicate balance: living for the now.
Living in the present takes precision. It takes a very intentional approach to life and you know the type of person when you meet him/her. They are actually motivated to “carpe diem.” YOLO to them isn’t partying with copious amounts of alcohol but finding pleasure in their present surroundings, understanding what came before them while perceiving the future in a very unique (and often glorious) way. They actualize the term “Temet nosce,” knowing thyself because to live in the way that they do, it starts with an attempt to understand who they are, learning from their own instincts and gaining their intuition from their present surroundings and not by nostalgia or dreams. They aren’t uptight and too serious either because they know the importance of appreciating life as it is. Their scope of life isn’t determined by their day-to-day but the expansive overview of the world as it stands.
As I rambled through this post, I feel like I’ve written something that could be published in a crummy self-help book so I’ll stop here. The purpose of this reflection is that I want my perception of myself to be as closely aligned with the reality of myself as much as possible by the end of this year. The way we perceive ourselves is a lie. We like to think better of ourselves than we really are. Even if we are our own harshest critic, we still aren’t as good as we believe ourselves to be. I’ve met so many people in 2013 and the one common trait between the people whose intelligence and perception of life were almost tangible substances when I spoke with them was the way they viewed their own lives.
This is the year I want to intentionally act on this. This comes from actively knowing my strengths and weaknesses and readjusting them on a regular basis. This comes from journaling on a regular basis. This comes from meeting extremely different people and going to radically different places. This comes from seeking out things that force me out of my comfort zone. I’m having a wide variety of people hold me accountable for the next few months and asking me questions. I’m trying to limit myself in idealizing what I will look like by year’s end because, again, I don’t want to fall in love with an idea—that’s just setting myself up to be a fraud. Bill Watterson once said, “Experience is food for the brain.” I plan on having a gourmet feast this year.
Everyone becomes a sage this time of year. People make an effort to keep from being a cliche by being super-introspective. I’ve always written for me so this is me, being cliche. This is me, being introspective. This is me, writing for myself.
I made and lost friends in 2013. I became fully employed with a VC-backed startup and grew in my position. I closed some exciting deals for the company that took much navigating. I learned a lot not only in my job but about other people, life as a whole, and the world. I had my highest points and my lowest points this year.
One thing I learned, though, was that I was rarely ever honest with myself. I never admitted to being burned out at times. I never admitted to becoming a person I didn’t like. I never admitted to living life simply for living it and not actually taking the time to enjoy it. I deceived myself a lot. I lied to myself a lot. I lied about myself a lot. I projected an image of myself that really wasn’t me because, maybe, deep inside, I wasn’t proud of who I was becoming. On paper, I was great. I was an up and comer. I was influential to many around me. I took it out on reading more, learning more, working more, which made me productive but didn’t really address the issue of the person I was allowing myself to become.
Someone who didn’t enjoy life. Someone who didn’t enjoy the people around him who showed him love. Someone who didn’t love back. Someone who wasn’t growing as a human being. Just a despicable, selfish person. Brian, you’re too hard on yourself. Stop being emo. That’s a dumb statement. That’s what drags people down. That’s a lie we tell ourselves because we aren’t comfortable with what looks back at us in the mirror. That’s a lie we use to justify our most basic flaws. Things that shouldn’t have even been flaws in the first place.
This coming year, 2014, will be a year filled with even more mistakes. There will be a lot of sorrow. There will be a lot of joy. But I want to look back at this post one year from today and know that if I did one thing, it was to take the time to appreciate life. Appreciate each breath and appreciate the world. Take the time to learn new things, try new things, embarrass myself.
I have another blog coming up that I plan to code myself from scratch. It will chronicle my application of this 2014 declaration and my reflections that sprout from them.
Before I set out to join a startup and after my first job out of college, I was determined to establish a new network of people who would push me to be better. I knew it would be uncomfortable, it would be weird, it would be different. For most of my life, I suffered a sort of identity crisis, trying to shape myself to be a better person—not in some sort of self-help kind of way but to define myself apart from my natural surroundings. A lot of times I was steered in the wrong direction and found myself taking bad turns. Growing up without a father, I wanted to prove to myself that I could be just as good a man, if not better, than one who grew up with one.
It was fourteen years ago today that my father passed and I’m not one who wants or needs a pity party. I don’t know how to respond to those. After my father’s funeral, there were three more deaths in my family over the four years that followed. It made me think of life differently than others my age but it didn’t drive me to do any better. For a long time, I thought of ways to change myself. How can I improve? How can I set my future family up so they wouldn’t have to face the things I did? I have this little belief that you can learn to do anything. You may not be the best at it but you can will yourself into being good at it—it just means you have to work that much harder. I haven’t experienced the world nearly enough in order to prove this theory but it’s worked out decently so far.
Associating yourself with problem solvers than problem makers is one of the best things you can do because they are better than you. I’m challenged to stop thinking within the confines of what I’m given and start asking where I can add benefit. This is an acquired taste but it becomes an addictive drug once that thought process shifts. Long hours of work becomes a hobby and the process becomes just as enjoyable. There’s no difference between 30 hours or 60 hours a workweek as long as things get done and you are learning; it’s exhausting, sure, but it’s just as rewarding.
You don’t need to accept the world as it is. You can scratch a little here, scratch a little there and you will notice that you are making an actual change. I’m still figuring it out. But 2013 was an educational year for me. The scope of wanting to change became bigger: to attach myself to something that will rethink what people have been doing all their lives.
Misconception of Humility
Early on, whether you are a seasoned vet or a rookie, if you are entering a new industry, networking is important. Being smart about your actions is important. Getting along with your coworkers is extremely important. But the most important trait to have—and I know this may off of as cliche—is ruthlessness. You can be shy. You can be a little slow. You can be unfamiliar with the industry your company is in (I knew nothing of the payments infrastructure when I first joined Dwolla). But you need to want it more than anyone else—at least convince yourself you do.
I think this is where people get confused between humility and being hungry/ruthless/whatever. Humility evokes images of quietness, calmness, slowness, etc. It’s the equivalent of being a pushover and not taking initiative. It’s quite the opposite. When you are humble, you acknowledge your wrongs. You acknowledge guidance. You appreciate correction and adapt to it.
Forget the money. Forget the equity, you must have read that most of these often equate to a small sum of money anyway. You’re there for a more intrinsic reason—because if you’re not, honestly, it’s better off that you quit. You are not wasting your time; you’re wasting others’ time. Monetary motivation or egotistical motivation (being motivativated by how people think of you) are types of motivation that extinguish as quickly as they came. It’s like going after a girl because she’s hot. Eventually when you notice her dreadful personality, you won’t be able to keep up with your initial chase.
Be ruthless. Not as a reprobate but one who wants it more than anyone. You will be humbled by how much you don’t know. You will want to learn with every single second you have. You can be a little disorganized. You can be a little bad on the time management side. But in the beginning, just work harder than you’ve ever worked before. Don’t look to the sides and see if you’re working harder than your co-workers because then you’ll slow down and work just a bit harder. You will judge. You will become prideful because there is no way you can see how much another person is putting in.
And again, stay humble. Being ruthless and cocky is probably one of the worst things you can do—not just for yourself but for the company. Nothing is an exact science: UI/UX, BD, running a business in general. There are best practices. There are things to stay away from. Nonetheless, the moment you stop thinking you need to learn is the moment you will set your company and yourself up for failure.
You won’t reach your ultimate goals because the final destination is perfection but envision it. It will continually change. But visualize it because that picture, that image, that world should be your motivation. You don’t keep plowing through if you’re headed to nothingness, you wipe the sweat off your brow and stay focused if you’re headed to the promised land.
I’m wondering whether any social network can realistically maintain activity and usage for a prolonged period of time from their users. What people are saying about Snapchat today, people were saying about Facebook yesterday (e.g. youthful user base, active ad engagement, rapid adoption, large brands have begun experimenting, multiple potential revenue streams). I’m not sure whether you can make exceptions without any proof either. You can speculate that Snapchat and Facebook are fundamentally different products but that’s just semantics—they’re both fundamentally social networks.
Twitter has been unique in that while people like to share their “statuses” regularly to their followers, its value has really exploded during times of breaking news or a live event when a large group of people need information as quickly as possible. While Twitter has gotten in trouble because it can sometimes become a huge game of telephone, and a rapid fire of false information, there has been a unique use for it over the last few years.
My doubts in the social media world is whether users will continue to get fatigued from the form of instant gratification they receive from such outlets like Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and even Twitter. The novelty of any product will always wear off but without its constantly feeding the user some sort of gratification of ego, I’m wondering whether there is any other sustainable social networking that can continue to innovate apart from what got it its users in the first place.
After all, that’s what social media thrives on.