The Motivation Triangle

When I talk to people (at work), I like to dig into their motivations. I like to I break it down into a simple framework that helps dig into their expectations what what will make them naturally happy in the long run. Each person is motivated by something different, and it’s something that they should understand about themselves as they hire people, or look for a job.

In general, people are motivated by 3 things (in different proportions, and in no particular order):

A. Compensation

This is usually the easiest one to talk about because it’s directly related to a transaction–your time and intellectual property for money. But compensation can also be other parts of the package like working remotely, equity, perks (ie. catered food), paid time off, bonuses, etc. People who are 100% motivated by compensation are always a red flag to me because they will move on to another company if they can find more pay elsewhere. In addition, it’s not that inspiring and they will attract/hire others that are most attracted by compensation as well. All is not to say they won’t do good work–it’s just that work is viewed mostly as a transaction.

B. Team

An amazing team is like wanting to be part of an NFL team with the top talent surrounding you. When you stand among them, you are elevated to their status. In addition, they will challenge you to do better work and sharpen your craft. Sometimes a good “team” is honestly just one person that really attracts you to work for their company, like Elon Musk. Some people would be willing to work for him with little to no compensation… they just want the opportunity.

C. Project

Projects are typically tied to purpose, which makes them very seductive when they’re associated with something personal. There are big tech challenges out there like AI, energy, environmental sustainability, transportation, health, etc. These are the types of projects that could take decades of not centuries to solve, which makes them perfect to dedicate your life to. Not all projects are made equal, but the ones that really motivate and strike the strings of our heart, are the ones that can get us work for no pay and work with whatever resources are available.

You can learn a lot about someone by using this framework and asking them what motivates them. What particular mixture is the most attractive. Then you can decide if you naturally align.

I know personally that I am most motivated by team, followed by compensation, followed by project. For me, the team is the most important… and if it’s not good, then the compensation and project has to make up for it.

What does your mixture look like today? and what would you like it to be in the future?

9 to 5’er Startups

As a founder, it’s always a goal (and challenge) to inspire people to find purpose in their work and go beyond 9 to 5 hours. Asking for more is difficult because people probably have families, health, and other things that need to be a priority. And the reality is that most of the time they won’t be compensated for the additional hours in the private sector, working for a startup.

Is it possible to make a successful startup working from 9 to 5? The answer is, yes, I have seen people create companies working normal hours… but there’s something special that happens when people put in a little extra effort. I believe that the extra time enables moments of creativity and personal bonding. But this is less of a judgement on other people, and more of a statement about myself–I prefer teams that push a little harder and go the extra mile. I admire the leaders that can inspire the people around them to find a purpose greater than themselves, and help pull everyone else along.

Is it possible to transform a team that works 9 to 5 into a different culture, without being the CEO or head honcho? I think that part is the tricky part because everything trickles down. If the CEO shows works 9 to 5, everyone else works 10 to 4, and then they hire people that prefer working from 11 to 3. To get others to put in the time, you have to set an example.

The challenge is that you can’t do this from the middle or bottom–it has to start with the source.

If you want more from people, it starts with you (if you are the leader). You can’t expect everyone to follow suit, but it’s the first place to start. As for transforming 9 to 5’ers to people who can work 10-12 hour days and weekends, you’re probably best looking for people that are motivated by a common purpose, with a true desire and hunger.

Whatever culture you create, it will have a gravity that attracts others that are similar. If you’re all gas all the time it’s probably not sustainable either, so keep that in mind too. For me personally, I want to be around those that are motivated by purpose.

2020 Diet Update

As I write this, I’m enjoying my avocado toast with mushrooms and garlic. And if you told me 5 years ago that I would be on a plant based diet, I would have probably been doubtful. But then again, I’ve always imagined myself becoming a vegetarian, and potentially vegan. I’ve never really talked about it with folks, since it’s kind of a sensitive topic.

Vegans definitely have a bad rep, being extreme in all aspects–not just food, but the cloths they wear, the furniture they buy, and even the manufacturing/packaging facilities of their food. I understand it, but at some point veganism has become more of a religion than a philosophy. And that part turns a lot of people off. However, it doesn’t change the fact that I’d like to be healthier, reduce my carbon footprint, and stop supporting a potentially corrupt food industry.

Over the last month, I have transitioned over to a plant-based diet. As much as I’ve avoided meat, I’ve had to eat a tiny bit of chicken, a bowl of beef broth, and a tiny bit of seafood. My current position is that I will continue to eat meat, but only because it is part of someone else’s culture or if there’s no other option. And given the choice, I will choose seafood over meats (ie. beef, pork, chicken, etc). I would say that at the moment, I’ve transitioned pretty well, and I’ve reached a point where it’s starting to feel like a smooth routine.

One question I get a lot is how do I feel now? Have I lost weight? Am I healthier? So for starters, I feel about the same, except I’m probably more hungry now. I still have a craving for some things, but that has diminished as I’ve found more plant-based substitutes. I found myself cooking and meal prepping more, which probably saves me money and has improved my overall nutrition. In being healthier, I have also cut out deep fried foods. As much as I can, I also try to avoid too many processed foods as well–more on this later. As for weight loss, yes… but it fluctuates. When I started, I weight between 195-198lbs. When I weigh myself now, I’m about 191-194lbs. I think I’m losing an average of about .5-1lbs per week, but we’ll see how long that continues. I’m more focused on health and nutrition versus weight loss at this time.

I’ve also been exercising more (via biking to work while I’m in San Francisco). Side note: I’ll be moving to a new place that’s further away from work, and I suspect that will dramatically increase my amount of exercise per day, since I’ll have to bike approximately 2 hours a day. <gasp>

I’m not sure exactly what the best way is to describe my diet, but I would probably say I’m pretty much 100% plant based when I’m by myself. When I’m around others, I’m either vegetarian or pescatarian. Truth be told, I’m actually okay with eating meat if I can source the food… but this is really hard. I personally want to know the butcher and their methods for raising and slaughtering livestock. At this stage of my life, I can’t ignore it anymore. However, if I can’t source the food for my daily diet, I’m going to avoid it. I watched some PETA videos, and even if .01% of the food I eat is slaughtered in an unethical fashion, I find it hard to support anymore.

But all of this ties to something larger, which is my lifestyle. Over the last 5 years, I have been living for other people and my career. I’ve decided to start transitioning to take care of myself, so that I can take care of others. It requires me to put my own health as a priority, and that’s what 2020 is all about. Diet is just one part of my “lifestyle”.

Somehow I woke up one day…

Middle-aged.

Overweight.

A workaholic.

I can’t change my age, but I can definitely believe that my weight and work are correlated. As I work more and travel, it’s been an ongoing battle to get into a proper routine to exercise and eat right. Routine is a process, and process reduces one-off decisions. The biggest changes I’m making this year are to travel less–this means 2 month rotations between SF and the east coast. This will enable me to develop a better routine as I settle. Secondly, I’m focusing a tremendous amount of my energy on diet, nutrition, and philosophy. By anchoring my diet and nutrition to a philosophy things will be easier to sustain. For example, I adopted two kittens with Annie recently, and it would seem contradictory to rescue animals, but yet eat other animal corpses. Lastly, my goal is to do the things I love more. I’ve put off a lot of things in my life because I believed that I needed to earn money first and then enjoy myself… but I can tell you from experience that it’s just a recipe for disappointment and stress. I think that my new take on life is to enjoy each day, and try to live in the moment more. It’s a little more expensive, but I think that being happier will enable me to be more successful and find new positive feedback loops.

I just hope that I can continue this for the long haul.

I’d like to wake up in the future on day…

Feeling young.

Physically and mentally healthy.

And spending more time around people and things I love most.

And I believe a big part of that future lifestyle will be attributed to my diet. So cheers to our first month in 2020.

Can you build a startup with a remote team?

The short answer is probably not… but it’s possible under specific conditions.

There is a huge allure of building a remote team… you hear about companies like Invision, Zoom, WordPress, etc. More and more companies are moving towards remote work, but the question is–can your founding team be entirely remote?

After working on a project that has employed remote workers for the last 3 years, I have very mixed feelings about it. As much as I like the idea and want it to work, I believe that remote team dynamics slow down communication, distances people, and adds additional challenges on top of trying to find product market fit. When trying to get a product from 0 to 1, it takes insanely fast cycles, iterating with users, and innovation.

And innovation is not efficient. By definition, innovation is actually trying to find anti-patterns and approaching things differently. There is a lot of wasted energy in being innovative, discarding idea after idea, prototype after prototype. If your product is focusing on innovating in a space, you’ll need to allocate more time for it.

If you’re thinking of building a remote team, you’re probably allured by cost reduction, which buys you more time. Yes, a remote team can reduce cost in the short run, but it really slows down the creative cycles, and adds more process/meetings/alignment.

Imagine scheduling meetings to be “creative”. Let that sink in for a second.

And if you’re an early stage company, it’s an impossible contradiction to manage. Your remote team will be frustrated that you have more meetings in a so-called “fast paced startup”, and you will be frustrated that your team can’t keep up with the changes.

So, what conditions need to be true in order to make a successful remote team?

I strongly believe that remote workers can potentially thrive under two scenarios (when starting with an early stage company):

a) IF the founding team has worked together before and have tight chemistry. I’m talking about a team that knows the ins and out with each other and can read between the lines. This can help reduce people management, and they can work through any communication issues together with less friction. This doesn’t guarantee success, but communication is paramount at this stage.

b) IF the product has found traction, and the remote workers can load balance. When a product has traction, it’s easier to create a predictable roadmap and plan for a larger body of work. Predictability and a controlled schedule is typically a desired quality that remote workers are attracted to. This is a good feedback loop for both employer and employee. The challenge is that you have to somehow find market fit before you build your remote team.

And this leads me to why I think remote teams probably won’t work for early stage companies…

The challenge I’ve uncovered is that it remote roles attracts a certain kind of personality and lifestyle–people who work remote put their own lives first. And rightfully so. They are at the stage of their life where they’ve drawn the line between church and state. However, when building an early stage company, it takes a disproportional amount of time to get things off the ground, to compete against emerging competitors, changing market trends, etc. It is honestly an obsession that your team has to share.

For the employees who are searching for remote roles, I recommend that you avoid seed companies unless they’ve found traction. Ask them how much revenue they generate and how many users they have. If they have neither, you will have to have an uncanny appetite for change and rapid iteration. Be prepared for a roller coaster, going up, down, left, right, forwards and inevitably backwards.

For founders, I caution you to build a founding team with remote people. There’s a good chance that their definition of “work-life balance” is very different from yours. Nothing replaces looking someone eye to eye in person. If someone is willing to show up in person and bet on your company, make a fair deal with them based on the market and the value they can bring to your team. Once you’ve found product market fit, then you can bring on remote workers to help load balance and scale. You can also use remote workers to help “hack” prototypes, but seeding a culture around remote workers is risky business.

Just be honest with yourself as you consider a remote team and the skill set that is required to build an early stage company. Communication and people skills are paramount, especially as the first few hires will be the upcoming leaders of your organization.

Yes, the future of the work force will be remote, but this applies mostly to companies that have already found product market fit.

I’m still yet to be convinced that highly creative work can be done remotely. Innovative and early stage companies (pre-market fit) that are in the most hyper-competitive spaces will most likely always be in person, in the same room. Period.

The highs and lows of 2019

2019 has been one hell of a year, mixed with highs, lows and every emotion in between.

I’ve managed to build and move into a house in Maryland recently with Annie. We finally pulled the trigger earlier this year after trying to figure out the future in terms of relocation. The house took several months to build, and during that time, we had arguably the worst CEO that I’ve ever come across heading up my project. He was cut after 8 months, but that was probably the most stressful point in my career, given that I needed to have a stable job in order to ensure my loan went through for the house. There were several times where I thought I wouldn’t be able to make it, but that is a story in its own. In a nutshell, I was working for a “Tech Bro”—and we spend most of our energy running in place dealing with people problems. The good news is that our company is still moving forward, and my house is complete. For the first time in a long time, I feel that my life is a little better. The house is far from being fully furnished, but there’s something nice about having a place that you can call home.

The second event that was a huge loss and huge hit to me and my family was our family dog, Jack, died earlier. He was highly intelligent, extremely loving, and most of all, he was the anchor of happiness in our family. But, on the opposite side of the spectrum, Annie and I adopted two rescue kittens recently. These two are so adorable and radiate vitality. While it was really sad to see Jack go, we can now give that love to our two new kittens. I just hope that my parents can find a place to fill their hearts soon as well. Nothing will ever replace Jack, but I believe that we can give other animals a wonderful and loving home.

The third big change has happened with me recently—I have started working out again, using a Peloton. Yeh, I’m kind of jumping on the bandwagon, but it’s something that I need. I’m not sure exactly how I can maintain consistency since I have to travel back and forth from the east and west coast, but it’s something that I want to stick with. For the last 5 years of my bi-coastal life, I have put too much my work and building my career. My health has honestly gone to 💩, and I’m probably the heaviest I’ve ever been. I wrote blog posts before about my dieting and losing some weight, but I never managed to stick with it. This past year has been several attempts to start a better diet and exercise, but I’ve already failed. This time, my goal is to start exercising with a strong routine when I’m back on the east coast. In addition to exercise, my goal is to become vegan one day. I’ve never talked about it openly with people, but it’s something that I wanted to do… but didn’t know how. After doing a little research, I’ve learned a little more about it, and it seems possible. It’s going to be hard to give up meat, but I believe I can do it. I have had so many signs after the last couple months that have really pointing me towards changing my diet, and I have to stop making excuses.

As we enter a new year, I want to look at the goals for the next decade. I’m now in my 40’s—I’m middle-aged, overweight, and a workaholic. I need to adjust my priorities, focusing the upcoming year on my health, happiness, and giving back to those who have sacrificed so much for me to be here today. I’ve taken the chance to take an early start before the new year, so I’ve got a little momentum now. I’m hoping that I can stick with the new diet, exercise, and living healthier. That way I can give my best to my family, friends and work. I hope that the changes I can make are lifestyle changes, and not just another failed diet. It’s scary to think that I was around 170 in 2013, and now I’m well over 190 lbs.

I’m also hoping to make time to travel to see some old friends as well. If I haven’t talked to you in a while, let’s sync up. I’ll figure out a way where we can catch up.

Two New Additions

To the left is Pepper, and to the right is Taro. These two new kittens are an addition to our home and will be introduced to Noodle soon. And if you don’t know Noodle, she’s our other cat that’s 3 years old. 🙂

I wasn’t a huge fan of cats a long time ago—probably because I got clawed by one in the head, but I’ve grown to really appreciate them. Over the years, I started to understand cats a little better, through Annie’s family cats (Noodle, Ellie, Sophie and Mango). And by understanding their behavior, I’m able to empathize with them more.

These two little critters really spoke to us when we first saw them a few weeks ago. Most people would try to adopt the kittens separately, but these two had already bonded as siblings. They pretty much do everything together—eat, sleep, play, and even poop together.

After having them in the house for the last week, I’ve can tell that they’re going to be great little members to the family. We’re currently getting them prepared to integrate with Noodle—this process will probably take us a few weeks. As I research more about cats, I’ve learned that they are very territorial, and the most important thing to do is go slow and let them get used to one another’s scent. So far, the process is going very well (and slow).

As you can see, Taro (left) and Pepper (right) love to do everything together. They’re such sweethearts and we’re really lucky to have them now.

I think in this entire process, I’ve learned something special about people who foster rescue animals. They have to make the ultimate sacrifice—to give the animals up to other people. The foster mom had to say good bye to these two kittens, which we could tell she loved very much. She knew that they were going to be adopted by good people that would provide a forever home for them, but I could still tell that she had to give up some of herself when letting them go.

I hope that the foster mom can follow them on this blog and our instagram feeds. These two kittens are special, and we can tell that they have been given so much love already. I can see they growing a little more each day and they’re little bundles of cuteness and joy.

Oh yeh, they also love the laser. They’re little hunters and are like little heat seeking missiles when we play with the laser pen. To make sure they don’t get too frustrated, I always finish off their play time with the feather toy so they can catch it. Cats tend to get frustrated when they can’t actually catch their prey, so I make sure that they have a good healthy session that ends with a satisfying catch at the end.