Where to begin…

So much has happened over the last few months, and I’m not sure where to start this post. Let’s just outline the last couple of months in simple bullet points of what’s been going on over here:

  • Been on the east coast (in Maryland) since the beginning of March.
  • Converted the majority of the lights in the house to smart switches that are now controlled by voice with Google Home.
  • Installed two Nest security cameras to monitor our back yard and garage.
  • Installed two litter robots, which have saved a ton of time for Annie and me.
  • Installed 3 fans in the house.
  • Installed four 3’x6’x1′ garden beds, with drip irrigation.
  • Installed irrigation to the front of the house to water our potted plants.
  • Planted Cleome flowers to our front garden bed.
  • Added mulch to the tree and did a little landscaping.
  • Became CEO of Input.
  • Still paying for my apartment in San Francisco.
  • Unable to use my car, because it’s in San Francisco.
  • Upgraded my laptop to something that can actually do some heavy lifting.
  • Installed a professional mic to my workspace setup.
  • Starting to learn how to stream live.
  • Hooked up my Nikon Z6 to my computer to use as a web cam.
  • About to install pro lighting to my workspace, so it looks better for streaming and video calls.
  • Continued my diet—not eating beef, chicken, pork, etc.
  • Haven’t really lost much weight because I’ve been bad—eating too much fast food.
  • My parents visited me a few weeks ago and I caught up with them.
  • Been exploring Google Earth and putting together a bucket list of places I’d like to visit.
  • Helped some friends edit some video.
  • Started playing some games with friends and streaming to Twitch.
  • Spent more time hanging out with Annie and our cats.

I guess each one of these bullet points could have been a blog post, but it’s just so hard to sit down and write sometimes. We’re past the halfway mark of 2020, and I need to start to update my priorities.

I hope everyone has been well. I think times have been tough for everyone with all the changes that are happening in the world. If you need support, want to jam, play games, browse Google Earth, or just talk, I’m here for yall.

The Pivot

We pivoted a few months ago. As much as I’d like to say that we were clever and the new product reused designs and code… we didn’t. A lot of things have changed. Even myself.

During the last few months, I have been strengthening my beliefs around what I want to build, who I want to build it with, and ultimately what my purpose is. I can tell you that the current version of Input is something that I would build even if there was no funding left. Why? Because I believe in its purpose.

Last year around this time, we had a CEO that was full of marketing jargon and had no real vision around building a product. He suggested that the entire premise of the product was based on integrations, calling it a “single pane of glass”, “empowering people through transparency and knowledge”, “the system of written record”. Un-imaginative. Non-controversial. Just consecutive marketing farts in the wind.

Ugh. I just cringed thinking about the smoke and mirrors… and all his self-aggrandizement.

I digress. Back to the point…

This feeling (of sheer anger) has motivated me. For a long time, I’ve been the nice guy. The reasonable guy. But, I can no longer sit back and be everyone’s friend or rely on people okay with mediocracy to push our vision forward. The harsh truth is, most people don’t know what it takes to get there… and they’ll probably evacuate themselves after they’ve extracted as much as they can. These are the people that I will amputate from our culture and founding team. We will cut beneath the healthy tissue, down to the bone to ensure it never has a chance to metastasize again.

On the other end of the spectrum, there will be others that will stay because they believe in the vision, they believe in the team, and they love their craft. I will invest into these people. I am still forming my opinion, but at some point, these choices will need to be made ahead of time so that we are prepared. Here are some of the choices that I have personally made in the past month:

I choose one word over two.

I choose clarity over jargon.

I choose customers over ourselves.

I choose hard work over short cuts.

I choose data points over assumptions.

I choose long term solutions vs short ones.

I choose process over one-offs.

I choose loyalty over strangers.

I choose fun over functional.

I choose gut feeling over everything.

I realize that I’m probably not the easiest person to work with, but I’m doing it for the product and customers. Not for my own convenience. And certainly not for my ego.

I believe Input should be built with the heart, and things that embody the vision should be protected at all costs.

Not everyone will love this product. Not everyone will love our team… But the ones that do, they will know that we were determined to build something special. And that small following will love us because we are edgy in our perspective and way of life. It’s also necessary, without compromise, at this stage of our company.

In my life, I have been inspired by Apple, Pixar, Porsche… What makes them special to me is that they knew they needed to make the best, and the only way they could do it was by turning their weaknesses into their strengths. They were also the underdogs.

I’ve been told that I can’t do it. I’ve been told how much I should make in terms of maximum salary for my abilities. I have been told that no one will invest in a notes app. I have also been told to respect the chair and follow the leader.

And my answer is NO.

From this point forward, I will build what I truly believe in. I will find people that share the same philosophy. Those who have fought and earned their stripes in our battles will have my respect.

I realize this memo could be weaponized and used against me in the future… but I’m writing it down because I need to remind myself what I’m truly capable of… and that I give a damn.

In this pivot, our product will change… but the thing that needs to emerge is our own passion to fight for what we believe in. That has to always stay inside us, no matter how many punches, pivots and battles we take. There will be no room made for cowardice to roam freely anymore.

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.