Don’t Be Fake: Be True

Sleazy Used Car SalesmanOk, so truth be told (which is what I do), this is more of a rant than straight advice. Although, this would qualify as good advice for almost anyone and especially entrepreneurs. Don’t be fake. People seem to live in constant fear of hurting people’s feelings, letting people down or they just hate saying no. So, they say whatever they think the other person wants to hear. Usually this amounts to false praise or dishonest claims of affection. This is not a good practice.

Sometimes, they’re even proactive about it. They meet someone at a networking event and say, “Hey, we should definitely work on a project together sometime!” In reality, they have no intention of doing that. They just want to score some points for suggesting it. Then they hope that you’ll forget all about their offer. Not being fake myself, I’m not quite sure what they’re hoping to gain from this. Maybe they want you to leave with a more favorable opinion of them? What really happens is that any person that tries to take them up on their offer ends up being disappointed and probably thinking that the other person is a phony that makes offers that they have no intention of keeping.

What’s the harm, you ask? It make people happy? Yes, it does in the short run. In the long run though, when they find out that you’re not genuine, they will be much more hurt than if you had been honest at the outset. Also, you’re damaging their barometer. They start wondering if everyone is being fake. Does anyone like what they’re doing? Maybe what they’re working on is so bad that people are afraid to be honest with them. This is death for entrepreneurs. Good, honest feedback is what allows an entrepreneur to make informed decisions, to iterate and to strategize. Puffing them up with false praise does them no favors. It just leads them down the wrong path.

We’ve reached a place in society where people can’t handle the truth anymore, about anything. People aren’t lazy. People aren’t fat. People aren’t stupid. There are no losers. I hate to break it to everyone, but it doesn’t matter what you call something, it doesn’t change its nature. A ceramic waste capture and disposal device is still a toilet. People still poop in them. A little honesty is a good thing. The sooner someone knows the truth of their situation, the sooner they can make a change to fix it. It’s a lot easier to fix a product before you start manufacturing it. While, honest feedback might not win you any friends while everyone else is heaping praise on someone, if we were all (tactfully) honest, people would have a much easier time gauging what they should be doing and making improvements to their lives, their businesses and their health.

So, here’s the bottom line, if my product makes no sense to you, let me know. If you think I’m looking pudgy (and I ask you), let me know. If you don’t want to do something with me, don’t offer. Will it hurt my feelings a bit? Maybe, but I’ll be stronger for it and I’ll thank you for it in the long run.

Missing the Point

Chalkboard with story openingOne of the defining traits that makes me who I am is that I want to know why things are the way they are. It’s not enough for me to be told, “That’s just the way things are.” Really? Why?

All the classes that I have enjoyed the most have been those that have done more than just present me with facts. They’ve explained why the facts are what they are. I’m not sure when it was that I developed that mindset. Maybe it’s an offshoot from how kids are always asking, “Why?” Sometimes they can string one why after another until it drives people crazy. Some people think that they do it for just that reason. I believe they intrinsically want to know if everything has a reason or if you hit a level where things become arbitrary. Or maybe they want to know everything and they figure that as an adult, you must know everything by now.

So, maybe nobody was able to beat that curiosity out of me when I was younger. Maybe that was in part due to my best friend that I met in 7th grade. He had a genuine thirst for knowledge that he was always feeding. We used to check out all the astronomy and astrophysics books we could. We would read them and talk about them and any tangentially related subject for hours everyday. Those are some of my greatest memories of that period in my life. That’s not to say that we didn’t play outside. We did that for hours everyday, too. Strangely it all felt related somehow.

While I did say that nobody beat my curiosity out of me, it wasn’t because the school system and our teachers were great. Some were and others weren’t. I still vividly remember a physics teacher getting mad that my friend asked a question on a topic that wasn’t being discussed that day, but was related. The teacher was way more irritated and dismissive than I felt was appropriate. I could see others in the class rolling their eyes that my friend had asked the question. That act on their part showed me that they were lost. They had already had a portion of their curiosity beaten out of them. They weren’t there to learn. They were there because that’s what good students did. You go to class, you get your A and you go home. If you actually remembered anything, that was irrelevant.

Think I’m being harsh? I remember all too many students at my university who crammed for tests and were proud that they got the A, but that after the test they couldn’t remember anything. What’s the point, I thought? You go to the university to learn something, not just to get good grades. If that was all that mattered, then cheating would be the preferred method. Which, I saw some of too in both high school and college.

Going back to what happened to my friend in high school, I honestly don’t think he would even remember it if he was asked. He always shrugged those things off. That’s probably how he kept his curiosity alive. I remember it though and it fundamentally changed how I thought about school. It made me more determined than ever to learn why things were and not blindly accept what I was taught. I did, however, realize that most teachers were either not as interested in the topics that they were teaching as I was or they didn’t really care what we were interested in. We were there to teach to, so that we would pass tests and they would get paid.

So, we learned as much as we could on our own. Learning on your own wasn’t as easy back then as it is now. Back when I was in high school, I had just gotten AOL and the web wasn’t even officially created until late in my high school career and it was hardly useful until late in my college career. So, that meant that I spent a lot of my time in libraries doing research the old fashioned way. That made me a lot more willing to dig for facts than a lot of people today that just latch onto whatever pops up first in their internet search. It has also made me a lot more appreciative of how much easier the internet makes it for us to research, fact check and learn, but I still refuse to allow myself to forget what I learned afterward. I fought so hard to not forget for years, that I’m not going to start now. What if the internet went away, after all? Just read Lucifer’s Hammer, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle if you want an idea of what that might look like. Sure that book paints an extreme view, but it’s a great book if you love sci-fi. And yes, my best friend and I read it in high school. And did a book report on it. That’s part of who I am, as well.

Status Update

Doing graphsSince I’m sick today and working late into the night doesn’t seem like the best idea, I decided to write this update to tell everyone how I’m doing early on in week 3 of my self directed course of study. Well, so far so good. As always, starting something new requires you to achieve a head of steam before you start making a lot of progress. It feels like I’m doing that nicely.

Classes:

Completed an intro to Ruby class and an intro to Rails class. I have just started an intro to Objective C class. So, at the moment, I’m doing a class a week. Since I’m early on, this feels like a good pace, but the classes are easier at the beginning. I hope to pick it up a bit and start completing harder classes in the same timeframe. Eventually, I think the classes will get involved enough to require 2-3 weeks to complete.

Reading:

I’ve been doing some reading on Ruby in addition to my daily diet of technology and business news. I’ve been pretty good about the news, but a little less good about the Ruby reading. I hope to change that by scheduling that into my day better, rather than just reading as time presents itself.

Area of Improvement:

The first area of improvement: Focus, was a success and I feel like I have continued to find ways to improve on it since week 1. My work on focus also reaped some benefits on week 2’s area: Procrastination. Procrastination has been a harder one for me to work on, but it hasn’t been about putting off work. My problem has been one of prioritization. That has led to me jumping around a little too much and the result feels like procrastination. To fix that, I’m creating a list of daily tasks and a schedule for when I’ll work on each. That feeds into Week 3’s area, which is: Productivity. I feel like I need to find ways to make my workday as productive as possible. So, I’m going to work on ways to streamline things a bit and become more productive.

Next Project:

This is the area that has probably suffered the most. I’m still in more of a brainstorming mode with the project. I hope to do something a little more concrete starting later this week though.

All in all, it’s been a decent two and a half week, but 25% of the way through my first 10 week course of study, I would like to be further along. So, I’m turning things up a notch!

Sticking to Your Guns

Sheriff's GunEveryone is very impressed by people who stick to their guns. Rightly so. It is an admirable trait to stand up for what you believe in, despite criticism. At least it’s admirable to a point. Sometimes, you’re going to be wrong. As an entrepreneur you have to be open to that possibility and constantly be open to facts and evolving circumstances that might point to that possibility.

If you stick to your guns despite all the evidence pointing to you being wrong, the greatest likelihood is that you will be gunned down where you stand. I’ve seen it happen many times. While it’s a great feeling to be vindicated as right when everyone else believed you were wrong, it’s not worth ignoring everyone, so that you have a chance for that to be the case. Don’t set your mind on a course and close your senses off from further facts.

Just because the facts say that you have to change course doesn’t mean you’re any less impressive of an entrepreneur. The most impressive ones are the ones that succeed, not the ones that are stubborn. So, by all means, stick to your guns as long as you are right. But be open to the possibility that you might not be right, so that you can capitalize on new opportunities and succeed, rather than fail out of stubbornness and hubris.

Routine

lightbulbThe past two weeks have taught me something important about myself. While I enjoy randomness and spontaneity, it just isn’t great for my productivity. If I allow my work life to be too chaotic, I maximize for creativity, but not for production. So, going forward, I’m going to focus on what type of work I need to do and structure the day to be conducive to that. If I’m working on something that needs creativity, I’ll minimize (not eliminate) the structure that I impose on the day in such a way that it forces me to get something done, but doesn’t stifle my creativity. If I need to crank out work that is more logic or process driven, I’ll structure the day rigidly because that helps me to get more work done.

One routine that I have added into my daily work schedule is background music from focus@will while I’m working. They have a great service that plays music that is scientifically designed to help you focus. It works great for me because I have become habituated to always listening to something. Usually, that means podcasts. Podcasts are death for most work though because it distracts me and drains necessary brain cycles. That’s why I skip podcasts while I’m working, but often I’ll pop the ear buds in when I’m doing something that allows for it. If it’s during my work day though, that results in me taking longer doing certain tasks because I don’t want to leave in the middle of a particular conversation. So, I have placed podcasts off limits.

Having music in the background that isn’t distracting though has been amazing. I don’t even think about turning on a podcast and I work much more quickly as well. So, focus@will has been a god send. They have a basic free service with some limits or a paid service that costs $3.99/month or $35/yr. It’s actually pretty reasonable and I think I might pony up the cash to support them if it continues to help me over the rest of this month. If you’re looking for an auditory tool to enhance your focus, give them a try.

You Need to Hustle!

Tonx CoffeeWhen you are a startup, it isn’t enough just to show up and work. You really need to hustle. You need to be willing to engage with current and potential customers and see why they purchase your product or why they don’t. A lot of companies talk a good game when it comes to this, but the ones that really do it are few and far between. So, when I run into one, I’m always impressed. This past week, I ran into just such a one.

I heard about a service called Tonx that sources coffee beans, roasts them and sends them within 24 hours of roasting. It’s a subscription service that sends you the beans every other week from different growers. They have a free trial on the website. I went through most of the sign up process on their website, but bailed before signing up for the service. For most companies, that would be where the story ended. For Tonx though, that wasn’t the case. I think it was the next day, I received an email from someone on the Tonx team. It was a form email reaching out to me because I didn’t complete the sign up process and pointing me to some links about the service and offering to answer any of my questions if I had any.

Since I believe that every startup can use as much feedback as possible and because I’m working on one now myself (albeit in the very early stages and very stealth), I shot her back a quick email. In the email, I told her why I hadn’t completed the process, thanked her for the email and wished her good luck. I wasn’t expecting anything to come of that, but I was hoping that the information might be of use to Tonx in some way. As a thank you and to hopefully gain me as a customer, she emailed me back, thanked me for the input and told me that they had shipped me out a free sample.

I received the free sample the other day and gave it a try with my wife this morning. I have to say that it was an outstanding product. I’m not a coffee connoisseur, by any means, but the coffee made me want to be. It had a fantastic aroma and a wonderfully balanced taste. If I had a higher end blender and had used a french press, I imagine I would have had an even better experience. However, even with a blade grinder and a drip coffee maker, my wife and I really enjoyed the coffee. The taste of the coffee and the hustle of the company both impressed us and we’re strongly considering signing up for a subscription. If you love great coffee, go check them out!

Day of Rest

Relaxing at the beachEveryone needs a day of rest. If you read the bible, God decided that after six days He needed a rest. So, why do we seem to think that we can go on without a break and be fine? Even the most hardcore entrepreneur needs a day of rest, once in a while. Working without a full day of rest occasionally, is a ticket for burnout.

Even though I know that I need to take a full day off periodically to recharge, the days that I do so are usually months apart. That’s not to say that I’m always working on a work project. I’m not. The problem is that when you work full out on a project, you tend to neglect your other areas of responsibility. I’m no different. So, when I force myself to stop working, I usually try to catch up on renovations on the house or repairs around the house. So, that means that I rarely get a full day of rest. Unfortunately, I really need those days to recharge or my battery gets really low.

In the spirit of that, I’m going to take a day off with my son and head for the hills. To camp for a night, that is. He’s of the age now that he can appreciate camping and, for some strange reason, camping doesn’t feel like work even though I’ll still be cooking and cleaning up after the camp site. Of course, I won’t have my younger son there, so there will be no fights to worry about. So, that will make things more peaceful. I’m looking forward to it. It will be a great time and will give me a chance to relax and recharge as well. Did I mention that my youngest wakes up at daybreak and the oldest gets up a couple hours later, if allowed to? Another perk. For both of us, since they share a room. I wish my wife condolences for the one morning I won’t be there to help. I’ll make it up to her later.

Introspection

Open RoadUsually when I drive anywhere, I entertain myself by listening to one of the podcasts that I subscribe to. Recently, however, I trimmed back the number of podcasts that I am subscribed to. That afforded me a moment of quiet to just be. Being who I am, that turned into a moment of introspection. I thought about how I was doing and not just what I was doing at that moment. That doesn’t sound like a big thing and it wasn’t what I was going for when I trimmed down on the podcasts that I am subscribed to, but I think it was a happy byproduct of it.

Having that time available to me to consider where I was in my goals for the day, the week and the quarter was important. It allowed me to come up with a few areas I needed to double down on and some areas that I needed to consider reprioritizing. While it’s great to be heads down sometimes or to be spending quality time with the family, it is also important to have some time to yourself with no tasks to work on. That allows time for your mind to free associate or some time for introspection. Both are also time well spent. I’m going to make sure I have more of that type of time on a regular basis.

Why Would Anyone Pay For That?

If you’re starting an online business, you might be asking yourself what the best way to monetize your product is. People often jump to the conclusion that people don’t want to pay for things, so advertising is the only way to go. Unfortunately, advertising is a tough way to monetize a product.

You need to get substantial numbers before you are even of interest to many advertisers. Of course, you can always sign up for a network, so that they can package up your impressions and sell them along with a lot of others. Unfortunately, this does two things. One, you’re not going to get very high rates because it doesn’t matter what an ad on your product should cost, just what the average cost of the ad across the network is valued at. Two, you end up giving up a very large part of what is spent on your impressions. The company handling everything for you takes somewhere in the 40-50% range, usually. So, what you end up with is scraps.

Maybe advertising is not the way to go. If you think that people won’t pay for your product, the better question is, “Why not?” Do you have a bad product or are you marketing it wrong? Board of Innovation put together a deck that they shared on SlideShare.net that discusses some techniques to get your customers to pay for your product. It’s definitely worth a few minutes of your time to take a look and garner some inspiration.

Life Happens: Plan for It

Sick WomanMy son had a fever today of 103F. Aside from taking care of him, I didn’t have time to do much else this evening, which is when I normally do a lot of work. It seems like he’s back to normal, but I’ll still need to check in with him at least once more during the night. I’m glad he’s feeling better because fevers are nothing to laugh at.

While I hate that he is sick, the timing of his fever did remind me of something important. So, I guess there was at least a lesson that I learned from it. Life happens! Things don’t always go according to plan. If anything, they usually go anything, but to plan. That means that you need to avoid planning things too tight. You need contingency time built into any plan that you have.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t go heads down sometimes and try to get things done as fast as possible. If you do that all the time though, it will backfire. Something will inevitably happen that will demand your attention, like a sick kid or a car that breaks down and you’ll be scrambling. Schedule too tightly and you might even see those issues snowball until it is impossible for you to recover in time for you to meet your goal. That’s a terrible feeling, especially when it’s at a can’t fail moment.

My son getting sick when I’m a little behind in my self directed life pivot (God, I have to stop procrastinating and figure out what to call what I’m doing), is not a huge deal, but it does slow me down at a time when I don’t want to be slowed down. That means it’s a great time for it to happen. No horrible repercussions, but a reminder that I need to do better with my scheduling, my focus and in my determination to eliminate all procrastination. So, while it’s a bummer that he was sick, I’ll double down and be better for this lesson.