2019 has been a journey. A journey that started a few years ago after I graduated from university in 2015, and has brought me to where I am today. I’m writing this to share some of my thoughts on life, work, and relationships that I’ve gathered over the past few years. If you prefer these kinds of things in the form of Twitter threads, check this out.
Always set the example.
What do you think is true that most people disagree with you about?
A few years ago, a mentor asked me this question. I bring it up all the time in conversation and often reflect on it. It helps people question their own perspective and empathize with others.
I don’t think that questioning perspective and empathizing is an easy thing to do well. I think that all people are good by default, but if some people never have a good example set for them, they will most likely adopt unhealthy and negative behavior patterns instead of good ones.
It is hard to set the example. I’ve identified situations where setting the example is not happening because of people dictating changes that need to occur in a system, but there are scattered traceable actions being used as the force on which to build desired outcomes.
Setting examples requires dictation as well as performing the actions needed to bring ideas to life for objective evaluation and future improvement — these actions are not only forms of dictation, but actually build functional aspects to collaborate upon.
When situations like these arise, people will question your methodologies and approaches to formulating a plan and how to go about executing it. Which is fine — so long as reviews occur relative to objectives, with hypotheses, in a constructive manner, and with the group’s collective benefit in mind.
If you feel like there is an imbalance between outcomes for a solution, design of that solution, and implementation of that solution; take the lead on doing everything and ask for feedback at each step of the way — do your best to set the example for all aspects of building a system.
Focus on the journey, not the destination.
Startups are unpredictable.
I can’t say for certain that startups are hard, easy, fast, or slow. One thing for sure is that startups are a blend of serendipity, work, innovation, failures, and successes; and the timing and order of those situations is never guaranteed one way or another, if ever.
Given this state of unpredictability, it’s important to ensure that you have shared your perspective on what you want to achieve out of growing a startup. From day one, with founders and function leaders, state what your go/no-go zones are with work and what you want to get out of this experience; finding common ground is paramount to the company being successful and a great place to work in the long run.
For me, it comes down to focusing on the journey over the destination. Cliche. Without the journey there is no destination, and very often destinations are set arbitrarily. Systems will change, ecosystems will change, tech will change, money will change, people will change — all these things can impact so-called destinations. So focusing on making the journey as great as possible helps avoid stress and anxiety about meeting arbitrarily set deadlines and helps teams focus on doing the best work possible while learning as much as possible, and hopefully enjoying their time working together as much as possible.
To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.
–Ralph Waldo Emerson
Comparison is the thief of joy; and comparing yourself to others always results in a less optimal outcome than just focusing on being yourself. A strength of others does not necessarily imply a weakness of you and vice-versa, another’s win does not imply your loss, and so on. It is hard to ignore these situations where we compare ourselves to others, due to the abundance of social content services we use to share information about our lives and give others feedback about their information. We sometimes subconsciously compare ourselves to the information outlets we consume — this is bad — realize if and when you do it, examine why you do it, and plan to not do it again in the future.
Again, I do not think it’s easy to find what you are passionate about and what your true calling is. What worked for me was to be self confident, curious, and transparent; showing confidence in what you know and being confident that you don’t know other things will help give others the clearest picture for what they can do to help you figure out what you need to figure out. Being self-deprecative and deflective of responsibility or willingness to make mistakes is ill advised in figuring out what you want to do. Oh and sarcasm, please avoid sarcasm — it’s a way to mock others by use of irony — which never results in an objective, constructive criticism. Avoid overly sarcastic people.
Happiness is reality minus expectations. The more expectations you have about things, the more work you have to do to figure out whether or not the choices you make have made you happy or not. Don’t do that, just be happy being you figuring it out.
Take note of the ups and downs of relationships.
I took my relationships in college for granted. I had so many incredible people and mentors around me that I didn’t stop to take notes to record how and why these relationships were so great.
Over time, for me, what makes the difference for me between friends and acquaintances, mentors and connections, is their willingness to consistently catch up and share insights about life and work, share meals, and follow through on planning the next time. Simple acts of kindness and inclusion will never go unnoticed.
If you find someone special, let them know it. This can be in personal, work, or any kind of relationship. Acknowledgment of someone being a significant part of your life is important.
Well thought out critiques from your friends are as valuable as gold. These critiques can be about what’s going on in life, whether it be related to startup ideas, work, relationships, behaviors, anything. Identifying which people in your life offer the best critiques and frequently check in with you are your close friends.
The Startup Shopping List.
Here’s my shopping list for starting a company in no particular order:
- The Problem
- The Solution(s)
- The People
- The Timing
- The Passion 🔥
Having a problem and a way to solve it 10x better than anyone else with passionate, capable, positive people at the right time is a recipe for success. I like to think you can apply that to any team function really.
Lots of people think that startups’ successes come from the best new idea or product or solving the hardest problem, which isn’t the case so much when the company is in it’s earliest stages. Team and timing are so important early on — work with people who have high intelligence, high integrity, and high energy — these kinds of people are incredibly valuable and when you share desires for your startup then that’s a great combo.
I’ve learned a bunch of this from working with incredible people from Techstars and Carnegie Mellon University. I’m incredibly lucky and privileged to have access to these networks so I’m happy to share and help others with whatever I’ve learned from these experiences.
When it comes to the functional aspects of a startup, it’s important to remember that no person (or function) is an island and bringing together functions like engineering, design, and product is less like running a relay race and more like soccer.
Functions have to work together and communicate on underlying models and experiences which lay foundations for systems that bring life to products and then to a business.
I don’t think that there are magic tools or technologies that will guarantee success or better performance. I would suggest using tools and technologies that allow you to focus on building the underlying models and experiences of your product will benefit you and your team the most. So using frameworks and cloud providers that provide feature rich platforms that allow you to build with batteries included and access to helpful people will help the most. Incurring too much technical debt without understanding the tradeoffs of self-hosting things like streaming tech and big data processing as a small team (<10 engineers or so) can be a dangerous situation. Be willing to stand on the shoulders of giants.
I’ve found that sticking to your strengths as a solo engineer building out startups will help enable speed, success, and support — make note of what you want to learn more about and get to it when you can.
That’s all for now. Thanks for the read. It’s been about 5 years since I graduated university and couldn’t be more excited about what’s still to come on this journey. For other things I might not have mentioned, checkout this thread. I’ll be writing again with more thoughts on life and work, but until then, it’s time for plenty of sleep before the next big thing. Cheers.